The modern game of football is, rather entertainingly so, marred with all of modernity’s frenzied hype and the many million tweets, posts, likes and shares that come with it. The unqualified opinions of those with a pained propensity to vent their frustration on fan cams and footy forums as a means of therapy. It’s worked out pretty well for ArsenalFanTv’s Troopz & DT.
But there comes a point, when opinion doesn’t matter anymore. Once all the polls counted and pundits had their say, there is no denying certain truths which teeter off the righteous edge of an undeniable fact. Here’s one: N’Golo Kante is the English Premier League’s best player and there is no one more deserving of that very accolade than the Chelsea No.7.
With a pencilled shortlist due to drop this weekend, bookies have already made the French maestro odds on favourite with fellow team-mate and 2015 winner, Eden Hazard just pipping Zlatan Ibrahimovic in second. Quite a feat in itself; perhaps only overshadowed by the fact he will become the second ever player to win two consecutive league titles with two different clubs. Mark Schwarzer is the other, in case you were wondering. More of a lucky Aussie charm than a player, mind.
Kante’s inaugural league triumph was, memorably and miraculously, with Leicester City, where, for all his running, tackling, passing, covering and reading of the game allowed Jamie Vardy to break goalscoring records and Riyad Mahrez to win 2016’s nomination.
Curiously enough, Don Ranieri, seemingly untouchable at the time, didn’t try especially hard to keep him at the King Power. Part of that was down to a belated offer he couldn’t refuse for Namplys Mendy; a missed target the season before whom Kante was plucked as a role replacement. Even Arsenal, with their DuckTales wealth stashed in Kroenke’s fanny-pack, never seemed serious about signing him. Nearly nine months later, Mendy’s living in rehab, Ranieri’s on the doll, Arsenal’s in revolt whilst Kante is… well… being Kante.
See, that’s the funny thing about being a defensive midfielder. You go about your business largely unnoticed and somewhat unappreciated. You watch your team-mates up top bag the glory and soak up the fans’ animalistic worship. You train. Work hard. Then play. If you turn up on match-day, the team flourishes. If you’re MIA, cracks appear and begin to widen. Kids grow up pining for wonder-strikes, nutmegs and rabona’s. But you’re there to mop up and grind. Hardly a flattering portrayal of ‘the beautiful game’.
But in this modern era, when even the postman can slag you off between blocks at the press of a button, a sense of unanimity has transcended unto Kante for mastering this particular role, this particular season. Because, despite the statistical impotence of squawker (ranking him only 32nd overall) and lack of fantasy team points he’ll help you beat your arsehole boss, anyone who has watched him play this season just knows. Like a hyper-charged electron, Kante swarms all over pitch from one tackle into another. His pitbull tenacity to win possession underplays how well he carries the ball, driving the the team forward into dangerous areas where Hazard & Costa run riot.
And that’s how the modern game works. Without Kante, David Luiz wouldn’t look so solid, nor Pedro seem so slick at 29. The greatest example of an undervalued asset would be the greatest DMF of them all. Before revolutionising the position at Chelsea in 2003, Claude Makelele, loved by fellow Galacticos as Zidane, was advised and asked for a pay rise. Florentino Perez’s response?
“He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres… Younger players will arrive who will ensure Makelele is forgotten.”
Kante still has some way to go before sizing up to Makelele and all his achievements. But comparisons are inevitable and fortunately for him, the modern game, with all the multi-angled replays and over-anal analyses in the studio, his efforts are rightly being lauded. From Gary Neville to Gary Linekar, it seems every pundit in the land has exhausted the superlative dictionary in heralding his qualities and value to another title-winning team.
Tough, determined, ambitious, clever, infectious, tactical, dictating, decisive… Napoleon Bonaparte lacked one quality his fellow 5’6” countrymen boasts in plenary. And this, if not for everything else, is why football ought to be considered dead if N’Golo Kante doesn’t win PFA Player of the Year. Because a humble role breeds a humble personality in this modern age of inflated egos:
“There are quite a few players in the Premier League who deserve this award,” he told Canal+ citing three teammates before himself.
Don’t worry, N’Golo, we’ll all be arrogant for you on every Facebook post, YouTube channel, Twitter account, and Snapchat story. This is your moment, son. You thoroughly deserve it.