N'Golo Kante: A smile to melt hearts, a brain to win matches
Photo by Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Ferrari. Porsche. Ranger Rover. Only the flashiest of automobiles will do for today’s superstars as they cruise into training, at the wheel of a multimillion-pound engine. 

A Mini Cooper calmly parks alongside its expensive peers. Maybe it has taken a wrong turn into Chelsea's training ground? Or maybe it is delivering one of the finest midfielders to grace the English game?

Small, silent, reliable, outspoken, efficient and downright loveable: this is not a description of the car but in fact listing just a handful of traits that makes N'Golo Kante so great.

Upon the 29-year-old's birthday, it feels appropriate to take apart his engine and observe all the well-oiled parts that have served him so well since steering his way towards two Premier League titles.

5000/1 

Leicester City fans may never tire of recalling the exact odds that were offered by the countries bookmakers for their side to end the season as league champions.

12 months down the line, and Claudio Ranieri had pulled of one of the greatest sporting miracles known to man, turning the Foxes from relegation survivors to champions elect. 

The magic of Riyad Mahrez, the firepower of Jamie Vardy, the rock that was Robert Huth, but none came as close to capturing the hearts and minds of a nation than the virtually unknown signing from French side Caen

Kante covered every blade of grass during his championship conquest, recording a higher number of tackles than any player (175), missing just one league appearance as he marched his way into the PFA Team of the Season.

Marching seems an unfitting adjective for the mild-mannered midfielder, allowing his dominative displays on the pitch do the talking for him. Few foreign assets have made such an impact during their debut campaign; as Kante's stock value shot up, Chelsea could not resist the chance to strike whilst the iron was hot.

"He's done it again"

Shortly after making waves in the midlands, the Frenchman signed in order to make a splash in the capital, joining the Blues for an extremely modest fee of £32 million.

Antonio Conte had recently taken over the reins at Stamford Bridge, aiming to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Italian at Leicester by getting the best out of his newest and most pragmatic player. 

Chelsea and Conte struck up the correct chords, dominating the division by finishing seven points in front of second placed Tottenham Hotspurs.

Similar to the Foxes unlikely fairy-tale, the Blues had their own stand out performers; the dazzle of Eden Hazard, the explosion of Diego Costa, the personality of David Luiz. Yet once again, it was the Kante catalyst the made the difference. 

He was in the top two for tackles, only behind his Leicester replacement Wilfred N'Didi, protecting a previously porous defence and starting 35/38 league fixtures. 

With hard work comes reward, as Kante swept up the individual awards, earning the PFA Player of the Year, Chelsea's Players Player and FWA Footballer of the Year, unsurprisingly making another PFA Team of the Season. 

The fact he is the first player to win successive Premier Leagues with two separate clubs encapsulates his importance to any side he sets foot in.

Could Kante carry on?

Like the energise bunny, Kante continued his regular duties in the midfield, but Chelsea as a collective were unable to repeat the feat of the previous term.

A fifth-place finish would resemble a weakened title resistance, glossed over by an FA Cup Wembley win over Manchester United, a day in which Kante shone during a relatively drab finale.

His hot streak of starting games was halted for a month in the Autumn, suffering his first major injury set back in England. His return spelled a run of one defeat in 11 league games, but a disastrous turn of the year relinquished Chelsea's crown, and ultimately Conte’s job, dismissed after the victory over United. 

Before the showpiece at the national stadium, Kante's role during 2017/18 were acknowledge by the Chelsea supporters, voting him their Player of the Year to add to his growing trophy cabinet. 

French fire dampened 

In came his third Italian manager in as many years, Maurizio Sarri swapped the sunshine of Napoli for the London lifestyle. Fans and pundits alike can pin point this as the moment Kante's Chelsea career began to change.

New manager, new system, as Sarri reverted to a 4-3-3 from Conte’s highly praised 3-4-3 formation. This was to occupy the arrival of Jorginho, displacing Kante as a protector, pushing him further forward to aid attacking moves. 

Despite widespread dispute about his new role, the World Cup winner did manage his best scoring return since moving from France, netting five, including his strike against Spurs that sealed Chelsea's spot in the Carabao Cup finale.

Viewed by some as an unsuccessful season, in part to Sarri's style of play and his relationship with certain players, the Blues still managed a top four finish, alongside conquest in the Europa League against Arsenal. Kante was in doubt after sustaining a hamstring injury, but was patched up in time to out fire the Gunners. 

Now under Frank Lampard, the midfielder is undergoing his most testing period in England, constantly fighting against injury, disabling him from a solid run of games for his new coach.

If Kante does decide to drive away into the sunset behind the wheel of his Mini Cooper, admirers and rivals apart can only thank him for gracing the Premier League, bringing nothing but joy and energy to times much brighter than they are currently. 

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