N’Golo Kante’s incredible run of success continued when he collected the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year trophy at a special dinner in the heart of London...
N’Golo Kante’s incredible run of success since he moved to England in 2015 continued on Thursday night when he collected the Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year trophy at a special dinner in the heart of London.
It was announced earlier this month that our French international midfielder had been voted this season’s top performer by the UK’s journalists and the magnitude of the achievement was brought home on the awards night by the history behind it. It is 70 years since the first such accolade was handed out to the great Stanley Matthews and images of all the past winners were displayed in the room, including our own Gianfranco Zola, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard.
Kante, speaking after collecting the trophy which is added to this year’s PFA Player of the Year honour and of course his back-to-back Premier League wins with Chelsea and Leicester, described it as a dream to be up there on the stage receiving the acclaim.
‘It is very special because a few years ago I was playing in the French lower divisions,’ he added. ‘Five years ago I wasn't even a professional so to receive this kind of award means I am the kind of player I could not even imagine being.’
Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo was invited to give an insight into Kante at Chelsea. He said he knew we had signed the right player when after his first training session during pre-season in the United States, all the players, no matter how big a star name, gravitated towards their new team-mate in recognition of his talent.
Emenalo also challenged the audience to come up with any recollections of Kante resorting to a sliding tackle.
‘He doesn’t,’ he pointed out, ‘because he is intelligent, he gets in position and knows how to nick the ball away and how to anticipate, and that is what makes him great, not because he is 10 feet tall or has muscles popping out everywhere. It is because he is absolutely, fantastically clued in to playing football.’
Former Scotland international midfielder Graeme Souness, another guest speaker, said he would have hated to play against Kante.
‘There are two sides to every midfield player’s game, with the ball and without the ball,’ he explained.
‘With the ball you see him passing accurately both long and short, the right pace, the right angle and the right direction, and it is a wonderful talent to have to pass to the right shirt consistently.
‘On the other aspect, people talk about him as someone who gets the ball back for the team but that is just a small part of it, it is about making the guy you are running against turn out, making him start again, making him make passes he doesn’t really want to make.’
However, as Kante pointed out, the awards may keep coming but there is still work to do.
‘It's not only me,’ he said. ‘I owe so much to my team-mates because we have achieved so much together this season, and we still have the FA Cup final.’
Earlier this week, the 26-year-old’s achievements were also recognised back in his homeland when the French players’ union named him the best footballer from France playing overseas, as can be seen in the video below. Real Madrid’s Karem Benzema, Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann was the impressive list of other nominees he beat in the voting.