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From Picking Trash To Winning Club Football’s Biggest Prize, Here’s N’Golo Kante’s Inspiring Journey

After Chelsea’s 1-0 win over in the over the weekend, N’Golo Kante has now won all major club football honours possible. He’s also a World Cup winner with France. But you’d never feel that about him if you ever met him, according to his teammates.


 




 












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Stories of Kante’s courtesy and humility have been well-documented in England. But his humble origins from the suburbs of Paris form a major part of who he is as a person.


Born to Malian migrants in 1991, N’Golo grew up in Rueil Malmaison, a small but densely populated suburb outside Paris. His father passed away when he was 11. So from an early age, he had to while his mother used to work as a cleaner to help sustain the family.


But shortly after the France’s victory in the 1998 World Cup hosted at home, Kante found idols in African migrants who helped the country claim the trophy. The likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera became household names as a result. It was also a sort of turning point for football in France. More and more academies popped up even in and around Paris.




 












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Aged 8, Kante became part of this football wave, and joined the JS Suresnes academy in the western suburbs of Paris. Despite his small built and limited physicality, he quickly rose through the ranks as a promising midfielder.


“Kante was three years younger than us, yet he was already playing with us. We were playing against a local team, and he came on ten minutes from the end. He was smaller than anyone, yet no one could get past him,” a former teammate Francois Lemoine had recollected in an interview.


 





However, Kanté remained outside the radar of big teams because of his small stature and selfless style of play, according to assistant manager Pierre Ville. Through the contacts of Suresnes’ president in 2010, he joined the reserve team of Boulogne, and impressed the lower divisions with his determination.


Within three years, he was signed up by second-tier French club Caen, whom he helped clinch promotion to the Ligue 1. This proved to be a successful audition for the English Premier League, as Leicester City managed to acquire his services in 2015, on a four-year contract.


Kante played a critical role in the Foxes’ title-winning 2015-16 campaign. It is considered one of the greatest underdog stories in English football. It also increased Kante’s stock further, in England.


 





Chelsea on-boarded him at the end of his maiden PL season, and by 2019, he had won another Premier League winners’ medal, an FA Cup, and a Europa League with them. In the summer of 2018, he was also part of Didier Deschamps’ French side that became World champion in Russia.


But the 2019-20 season accompanied injury woes for the box-to-box midfielder. He was laid off action for a month following an ankle injury against Valencia in the Champions League. The subsequent break due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a testing time for him, like most of us.


 





But he bounced back sharply this season, especially in the Champions League encounters against Spanish opposition. He carried his form into the final of the competition against Man City over the weekend, popping up everywhere on the pitch, from one end to the other.


 





Former Arsenal manager and Premier League legend, Arsène Wenger described Kante’s performance as “unbelievable”, while some other pundits believed that Kante might well be in contention for Ballon d’Or award this year.


Kante continues to remain a favourite in the dressing room because of his simplicity. He’s also become a sort of a pop culture icon for stories about him choosing cycles over cars, or buying a rather inexpensive Mini hatchback, or standing in the corner when his team is celebrating because he’s too shy.


Whatever it is, it’s brought him to the summit of the football world. A Ballon d’Or would only be the cherry on top.


Images: Instagram/@kante, Twitter/@bbcsport, @chelseafc


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