MARTIN SAMUEL: N’Golo Kante is a selfless, flawless diamond for Chelsea


N’Golo Kante’s feet did not touch the ground. First, Kurt Zouma swept him in both arms like a big baby and paraded him across the field. When he put him down, others ran to him and did the same.

Kante became a human trophy. Everyone wanted to touch it, kiss it, hold it in the air for the world to see. He even got a hug from Roman Abramovich.

There has never been a player like him, certainly not one born for the English game. Admittedly, Carlos Tevez has also won the Champions League and titles with two Premier League clubs. But while invaluable to Manchester United in their triumphs, he only played 13 games in his title-winning campaign with Manchester City and was in large part a pain in the neck, exile in Argentina and unlike coach Roberto. Mancini.

N’Golo Kante lifts the Champions League trophy after helping Chelsea beat Manchester City

Kante, on the other hand, is the archetypal selfless, flawless diamond: 37 out of 38 games to win the league with Leicester, 35 out of 38 with Chelsea, and now this. It’s a fantastic panel that makes up BT Sport’s biggest Champions League matches today. In both legs of the semi-final with Real Madrid, and now the final, the prize for the man of the match has been awarded to Kante.

Not that you would know. He was one of the last to be paraded in front of the cameras and had to be led forward by his teammates to lift the trophy for the traveling support, almost under duress.

While footage of dancing, partying Chelsea players beamed out from the locker room, some looking for the cameras, Ben Chilwell wore a Banzai-style scarf around his head. Kante was hiding. You can imagine he was outside helping the staff in the back room with loading the team bus.

He is such a person. Asked if there was a better player in the world in his position, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta initially gave a one-word answer. “No,” he said. The facts support this.

In the past five years, Kante has won the World Cup, the Champions League, the Europa League, two Premier League titles and the FA Cup. Those six trophies have been collected from five managers. This is a player who is guaranteed to perform no matter who is running the show.

Kante's stunning performance in the final earned a hug from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

Kante’s stunning performance in the final earned a hug from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich

Against Manchester City, he won 100 percent of his tackles without getting a single foul. And at the end, as his teammates celebrated with glamorous wives and girlfriends, Kante melted another million hearts by getting a big hug from his mom.

Could a defensive midfield player, not even quite box-to-box, win the Ballon d’Or in 2021? He certainly deserves attention. By the time the votes are cast, Robert Lewandowski will no doubt have scored another 20 with his 48 this season for Bayern Munich and Kante’s less showy brilliance will be relegated to a supporting role. And while that’s not entirely fair, it is believed that it doesn’t bother him much anyway.

When Kante spoke of the night, he never mentioned his own role. He spoke of “all season’s work”; that the team ‘suffered’ together against a strong Manchester City team; he stressed the ‘effort’ to get the result and his pride in the ‘group’.

It is left to others to point out that a particular Kante tackle on Kevin De Bruyne – completely legitimate as opposed to Antonio Rudiger’s body check that brought him out of the match – sums up the determination of Chelsea’s performance. He took him down with the swiftness of a cheetah and no less ferocity, but still neat, fair and without drama.

Kante is not Thierry Henry or Cristiano Ronaldo, but he could go down as the greatest foreign player this country has ever seen, in terms of his performance. Leicester won’t win the competition without him, and Leicester’s title might be the best of them all. When Azpilicueta elaborated on his first one-word answer, it was a tribute to Kante that radiated more admiration and respect.

At the final whistle he was immediately picked up by teammate Kurt Zouma

At the final whistle he was immediately picked up by teammate Kurt Zouma

“He does everything with the energy he brings,” said Azpilicueta. ‘I don’t know how many ball recoveries he had, but the way he then dragged it forward and put down so much ground, he’s special. When we didn’t have him, we missed him.

But after winning the World Cup, winning the Champions League, he’s still as humble as a person. I am so happy for him because he is a huge part of this team and I am so happy that he is next to me. ‘

Who wouldn’t be? Pep Guardiola, maybe. He showed what he thought of Kante’s position by deploying Ilkay Gundogan there.

Guardiola explained his reasoning after Gundogan had previously played the role and he thought his passing could release the exceptional talents that lay ahead, but results in finals have a way of taking a sock full of lead to justifications and this was one of those occasions. It seems perverse to accuse the best mind in the modern game of using it too much, but opting for a starting XI who hasn’t played this season and two players, Rodri and Fernandinho, who appear as a pair or as individuals. every two game bar this season, is perverse.

Graham Taylor, when he was an England manager, was prone to throwing curveballs in team squads in major games. Still, Taylor always felt he wasn’t getting the respect his career deserved. Perhaps he was too eager to prove his opponents wrong to show them who had the real football brain.

In a stellar showing, he performed a sensational sliding tackle on Man City's Kevin de Bruyne

In a stellar showing, he performed a sensational sliding tackle on Man City’s Kevin de Bruyne

So what is Guardiola’s motivation? All he hears is genius, genius, genius … He has nothing to prove to anyone. Had he chosen the Manchester City XI type that dominated the league in the second half of the season, it would not have been considered safe or conservative. It’s still an XI, and a fantastic way to play, shaped by his coaching intellect.

Perhaps Chelsea’s secret is taking their chances. Not in games – if this was the weak point this season – but in the transfer market, the management market.

Visa issues still bar Abramovich from watching his team in England, but it was fitting that he was here to share in their success. He is the man who consistently finds the money to address the shortcomings in his teams, who makes bold, often unpopular decisions, at first glance that a regime is failing. He fires Frank Lampard and Jose Mourinho, he will go for Harry Kane or Erling Haaland again if he feels that Thomas Tuchel needs that to further close the gap on City.

And it is, Timo Werner has another one of those nights where Chelsea wins despite his performance for goal rather than because of his contributions. With Kane in place of Werner, this game could have been finished by the time of the break.

Kante hugs his mother at the party after Chelsea's win in Porto

Kante hugs his mother at the party after Chelsea’s win in Porto

Kante poses with the Champions League trophy in Chelsea's dressing room

The midfielder also won the Man of the Match award

In addition to winning the Champions League, he also received the Man of the Match award

We have to reconsider that he works extremely hard, is fast and gets into excellent scoring positions, but then if he misses his kick altogether, as happened here after 10 minutes, that makes those attributes irrelevant.

“Two or three players can be very, very good,” said Tuchel. ‘It is a constant matter to never deny change. Then you always bring new energy, new guys who question the old beliefs, who challenge everyone in training and competitions. I think it is a good thing.

‘We no longer need seven like last summer and a full turnover, because we still have a young team and they can grow and evolve. But of course we have other ideas to make the group stronger. I think this can always be positive to challenge us. ‘

And then he rejoined his players in the locker room. Spray champagne like a crazy Grand Prix winner. Meanwhile, for the first time on a great night for Chelsea, Kante was absolutely nowhere to be seen.