The Premier League’s Most Valuable player?
Whenever the question is asked of who the best player in the English Premier League is, a player from either Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool usually gets the nod.
In my view, not this year though.
My pick is 25 years old, wears the No 14 shirt like the legendary late Johan Cruijff, is 1,69m tall, a native of France and plays for Leicester. However, he is not Riyad Mahrez, neither Jamie Vardy but defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté.
Some might question this as Kanté does not score loads of goals, neither does he provide tons of match-winning goal assists.
Having watched every one of the 26 games he has played for Leicester this season, I can safely tell you that if Leicester are on the verge of becoming the most unbelievable football fairytale ever in the history of the game, it is largely thanks to the output of this exceptional player.
To a neutral spectator he might go unnoticed, but a closer look at the “engine room” of this rollercoaster bulldozing team called Leicester will reveal his indispensability.
In understanding his worth one first needs to look at what makes Leicester tick. This is a team whose success is built all around its team work as opposed to sheer individual exploits.
That does not mean they do not have star players. The likes of Vardy and Mahrez have proven to be world class this season.
Kanté though epitomises Leicester’s team play.
He is a central defensive midfielder who wins tons of balls from the opponent, provides shelter for the central defenders — thereby being partly responsible for Leicester’s low count of conceded goals, initiates attacks from deep midfield, provides support to attackers, breaks down opposing attacks and is a tireless box-to-box player that most coaches dream to have.
Inside sources from the club told me that he is regularly the first player picked by manager Claudio Ranieri every weekend even ahead of other more prominent names.
Little surprise then that he has been given a call-up by Didier Deschamps, coach of the French national team (he has featured in two games so far) and he could be on his way to playing in the summer European Championships for France.
In the 26 games he has played for Leicester this season he has been substituted only four times with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10.
Quiet but deadly important.
Scoring a goal and three assists in a team that bases its game around the counter attack, this is extraordinary. Especially when you further consider the enormous defensive duties he has to cope with for such a relatively small player.
A native of Mali, he has adopted the French nationality to the detriment of Africa but to huge benefit to France.
For a player who measures 1,69m and weighs 68kg he excels in a league where physical play is the norm. He is consistent and has been extraordinary this year.
You might not be a Leicester fan, but just close your eyes and imagine your favourite team with Kanté as its defensive midfielder, would you be better or worse off?
Kanté is very strong in tackling, through balls, dribbling and ball interception. He is relatively less effective in aerial duels and passing which are understandable from his physiognomy and the kilometres he has to cover each game.
He however loves to run at opponents with and without the ball, shooting from distance and could still get better, so imagine what the future could look like for this player.
Of course many might feel Kanté is not the the Premier League’s best, but this assertion that I am making is based on what he has been able to produce with the relative limited resources he has been given to achieve it, where his contributions have taken his club and how consistent he has been all season and not just a few games.
Leicester have gone from relegation candidates before Kanté’s arrival to title contenders and definite champions league participants next season — talk about a player’s influence worthy of earning accolades.
Yours truly played as a defensive central midfielder and I can assure you that it is extremely difficult. Your work goes unnoticed by many apart from your colleagues. You need to be selfless to succeed and that’s one huge quality Kanté has a lot to give.
He may not be spectacular to watch, but he is as valuable as a fist-sized diamond to his club to say the least.
What do you think?