Kante to break Ronaldo and Messi’s strangleholdMay 30, 2021
Following his Player of the Match display in Chelsea’s 1-0 Champions League final win over Manchester City in Porto on Saturday night, calls have increased for star midfielder N’Golo Kante to be named this year’s Ballon d’Or king.
As Thomas Tuchel’s opposite number, Pep Guardiola, bafflingly opted to start neither Fernandinho nor Rodri to contain the Frenchman, the World Cup winner was his typical self and covered every blade of the Estadio do Dragao grass.
As the shortest player on the field at at 5ft 6in, he won more aerial duels – seven – than any other player in the all-English grand finale.
Furthermore, he completed all three of his attempted tackles, enjoyed 81.8% pass accuracy in the opposition’s half and won the most ground duels while finishing as Chelsea’s only player to win more possession than he lost.
Also not dribbled past on one single occasion, he made 10 ball recoveries, which his club and international teammate, Olivier Giroud, estimated at 50 – such was his impact.
“He’s huge,” said Giroud after collecting his winner’s medal.
“He recovered 50 balls, he hurt them… I don’t know what to say. This guy is incredible, he runs everywhere, he makes the difference, he fills in gaps, he collects balls.
“With him, we have the impression of having 12 on the pitch.”
Player of the Match in the final, both legs of the semis against Real Madrid and in one leg of the last 16 clash against Madrid’s city rivals and Liga winners, Atletico, his feats have triggered an informal online campaign for Kante to be named the Ballon d’Or winner by France Football later this year.
In turn, he would break the hegemony generational greats Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo enjoy on football’s greatest individual accolade.
Humble as ever, however, Kante was quick to nip such talk in the bud post match.
“It’s amazing,” Kante explained to RMC Sport of Chelsea’s win.
“It’s the result of a lot of effort, after a lot of difficulties during the season.
“The Man of the Match award is secondary. The main thing is the work of the whole group. It is pride and joy. We fought to qualify for the final. Today, we have suffered, we have the reward.”
Asked more specifically if he is in the running for the prize previously won by Messi in 2019, and postponed last year due to the coronavirus, Kante answered: “No – for the moment we are savoring the Champions League.
“The Euros are soon, I will join the France team and I hope to win that as well.”
Yet if Les Bleus do go all the way – and one better than finishing runners-up to Portugal on home soil in 2016 – it will be hard to deny Kante’s credentials.
The last man to win the Golden Ball not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo since Kaka in 2007 was Luka Modric in 2018, who had lifted the Champions League against Liverpool that year but finished runner-up to Kante’s France in Russia.
Earning further plaudits for his refusal to time-waste as the seconds ticked down to Chelsea’s second-ever win in the continent’s greatest club prize, ex-Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher made a bold but valid claim about the 30-year-old.
“Before the game, we all got together and thought that, maybe, City would just edge it – or that they have certainly got the better team and are the favorites,” he began as a pundit on CBS Sports.
“[Kante] was the one player that we said would go straight into the Manchester City team.
“Now, this is a guy that has come to the English Premier League and, in his first season, won a title at Leicester,” the 2005 Champions League victor went on.
“Then he won a title at Chelsea, won a World Cup, won an FA Cup, and now he has won a Champions League.
“This guy, when he [retires from playing], I think he will be spoken about as one of the greatest players – or perhaps one of the greatest midfield players – that the English Premier League has seen.
“He has got the World Cup and could possibly have the Euros this summer as well.”
In touching scenes that have been viewed more than two and a half million times so far, Kante could be seen celebrating his latest achievement with his mother.
Running on to the pitch, she received a huge hug as another member of the family joined them, unable to contain their emotions.