There are a few players in the relatively short Premier League era that have changed the game as its fans see it. In the past, players such as Dennis Bergkamp with his instant control, Cristiano Ronaldo and his ease in beating defenders and rampaging fullbacks such as Ashley Cole, have caused viewers to appreciate new concepts of the game.
In N’Golo Kante, the Premier League viewer has found one player that has yet again caused them to view their sport differently. Chelsea’s French midfielder has won so many plaudits that it now seems impossible that the former Leicester City man will not win the Player of The Year award. The only stumbling block could be the fact that he stops goals rather than scoring them.
The obsession with goals
The traditional winners of the league’s best player award are the ones that have lit up the season with their attacking play. Only three defensive-minded players have won the award since the Premier League began back in 1992, the exceptions being Aston Villa’s Paul McGrath in 1992/3, Roy Keane for Manchester United in 1999/2000, before ending with Chelsea and England defender John Terry winning it in 2004/5.
In an era where every statistic is poured over by journalists, pundits, coaches and fans alike, it seems incredible that in the 23 years since the league’s conception, no other defensive player has picked up the league’s best performer award.
There have, of course, been some players that have won acclamations for the donkey work they carry out. These include Claude Makelele, Emmanuel Petit, Dietmar Hamman and Michael Carrick, but even these great players have been overshadowed by the higher profile given to their attacking teammates.
In Kante, league leaders Chelsea have a player that looks set to at least rebalance some of the uneven praise his attacking colleagues and opponents receive. It now looks like he is about to become a double Premier League title winner, after being part of the incredible Leicester City story last year. This again only highlights the incredible talent that the pint-sized midfield enforcer has and reinforces the bias that is aimed to flair players rather than destructive ones.
The amazing Foxes’ title win last year brought some obscure names to the attention of every football fan in the land. In Kante, the midfield was so combative that it was able to bring in the club’s attacking players effectively, often on the break, allowing his teammates Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy to win game after game, scoring goals for fun at times.
Riyad Mahrez won the Player of The Year award, and whilst deserving, the fact that the side has struggled to achieve anything like the success that they enjoyed last season due to the summer transfer of Kante to Chelsea. This can only reaffirm how vital he was and is to the side he plays for.
Redefining the role
Leicester City fought tooth and nail to retain players such as Mahrez and Vardy, whose stock had risen following a campaign that saw them complete one of football’s most incredible stories. The lure of Chelsea for Kante following their unprecedented success, however, was too much. His signing allowed incoming Italian manager Antonio Conte to work with a player that not only had Premier League experience, but he was seen as the league’s best player in that position.
In the defensive holding position, players in the past such as Petit, Carrick and Makalele were vital to the defensive make-up of the side; it has now emerged that players within that position need to be more than that. Kante has been a revelation at his new club this season, not only are his side the most defensively solid in the league, the attacking side of the club’s play also benefits due to his ability to break up play and distribute the ball accurately, and more importantly in Chelsea’s case this season, quickly, allowing his attacking players of Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and Diego Costa to do what they do best.
The real Man of the Match
A quick glance at his impressive stats this season only confirms the reason why the diminutive player should stand head and shoulders above his colleagues and competitors. His distribution only highlights how vital a cog he has become; a passing success rate of 88.3% over 27 league appearances is better than players such as Mesut Ozil, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling.
He has won the Man of the Match award in his club’s last two games, even scoring the winning goal against fierce rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-finals, which could enable Conte’s men to achieve the double, having effectively already won the title. Within the game, one topic stood out over the other talking points, which was the easiness in which Kante found it to completely dominate the higher profile and vastly more expensive international midfield colleague Paul Pogba.
This weekend’s game against Stoke was a real battle in which Chelsea were forced to knuckle down and fight for their points. It came as no surprise to anyone watching the game that Kante won MoM, his breaking up of the play allowed both of Chelsea’s goals to materialize, even playing the ball that forced the corner, which allowed Chelsea to win the game with a late winner from Gary Cahill.
Whilst it is difficult to compare different players when they play in different seasons for different teams and also in different positions, N’Golo Kante has proved not only how immensely important his position is, but also there is no player quite like him, and he should win the PFA Player of the Year award hands down this time around.
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