Kante the French heartbeat

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IT is easy to ignore diminutive N’Golo Kante amid all of France’s starstudded squad that includes US$100 million-plus (RM405 million) players like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

But when the French take on Croatia in the final, Kante will have contributed as much to that success if not more than his big name teammates.

The 27-year-old does not have the stature of fellow midfielder Pogba, nor does he have the lightning speed of Mbappe or the scoring ability of Griezmann.

He has, however, “15 lungs”, according to Pogba, an incomparable work ethic and a unique ability to read the game like few others.

Playing in front of defenders, for much of his career Kante’s abilities had gone unnoticed given as recently as 2013 he was playing in France’s second division.

Only when he came to Leicester in 2015 did the world start to take notice of the player who patrols the area in front of his defence in such a way that allows midfielders and defenders to play up.

Leicester’s shocking run to the Premier League title in 2016 was as much down to Kante’s interceptions and tackles as it was to James Vardy’s goals.

At the end of that season he had more tackles and interceptions than any other EPL player.

But the 1.68m-tall Frenchman was just warming up.

His move to Chelsea may have surprised some at the time but by the end of the 2016-17 season, there was no doubt he was one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.

“NG is always reserved, calm and timid,” Pogba said on Thursday. “Except when he’s playing cards.

“We understand each other well, we talk, give each other advice.

“It’s a special relationship. He’s just a great guy.”

If France win their second World Cup tomorrow, they know it would not have been possible without Kante’s tireless work in midfield. — Reuters