N’Golo Kanté is a French professional footballer who plays as a defensive midfielder for the France national team. He made his senior debut at Boulogne and then spent two seasons at Caen, the latter in Ligue 1. In 2015, he joined Leicester City for a fee of £5.6 million and became an integral member of the club’s first ever Premier League title in his only season at the club. The following year, he joined Chelsea for a reported fee of £32 million, winning the league again in his first season. He also won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year and became the first outfield player to win back-to-back English league titles with different clubs since Eric Cantona in 1992 and 1993. Kanté made his senior international debut for France in 2016. He was included in their squad that finished runners-up at that year’s European Championship. Two years later, he was a key member of the French team that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
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Born to Malian parents, Kanté was approached by Mali ahead of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations having not played for France in any of their age group teams. Kanté declined on the basis that he was still trying to establish himself in Ligue 1. Mali issued a further invitation to Kanté in January 2016, although he stated that he was still undecided about which national team to represent should he get an invite from France. Kanté’s parents migrated to France from Mali in 1980, and he grew up in a small flat in Rueil-Malmaison, Hauts-de-Seine. He is named after King Ngolo Diarra of the Bamana Empire. As of 2017, his younger sister was in the youth system at Suresnes. At the start of his professional career at Boulogne, he commuted to training by kick scooter, and as of 2017 he drove a Mini Hatch, interpreted by BBC Sport’s Paul Fletcher as showing he is “uninterested in displaying his wealth”. Kanté is a practising Muslim. Kanté right playing against Argentina in the round-of-sixteen match at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. On 17 March 2016, Kanté was selected for the France senior squad for the first time to face the Netherlands and Russia in friendlies. He made his debut against the former eight days later, replacing Lassana Diarra at half time in a 3–2 win at the Amsterdam Arena. On his 25th birthday, 29 March, he made his first start and scored to open a 4–2 win over Russia at the Stade de France. After his first senior goal, French regional newspaper La Voix du Nord likened Kanté to Claude Makélélé in his early days at Nantes, due to their similar playing style and holding role in midfield. After asking the player if he considered Makélélé his role model, Kanté instead said that his was Lassana Diarra. Makélélé himself in February 2017 said that the one attribute Kanté needed to become an “exceptional player” would be leadership. A dynamic, diminutive, and hard-working player, known for his energy and excellent ball-winning abilities as a box-to-box midfielder, as well as his positional sense, athleticism, intelligence, versatility, and ability to read the game, Kanté made the most tackles in Europe’s top leagues in both the 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons. Although he is predominantly known for the tactical and defensive aspect of his game – namely his ability to cut out opposing attacks, tackle opponents, and intercept passes – he is also capable of starting offensive plays after regaining possession, courtesy of his simple yet precise and efficient distribution. In April 2016 Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that “Kanté is by far the best player in the league”. Regarding Kanté’s tenacity and stamina, compatriot Paul Pogba has said of him: “Everybody knows that N’Golo Kanté can run for 11 players – that’s his best quality”, while Kanté’s former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri commented: “This player Kanté, he was running so hard that I thought he must have a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts. He never stopped running in training. I tell him, ‘One day, I’m going to see you cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself.’ He’s unbelievable.” Aside from his playing ability, Kanté’s former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has also praised the midfielder for his discipline in training and willingness to improve himself constantly, and has described him as a “complete midfielder”.