N'Golo Kanté

Kanté's Extraordinary Year As A Fox On Filbert Way

The capture of French midfielder N'Golo Kanté from Stade Malherbe Caen on 3 August, 2015 was one of the least heralded signings of the summer.
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Paris-born Kanté, who celebrates his 30th birthday today (29 March), had been a long-term target for the Foxes, with chief scout Steve Walsh monitoring the 5ft 6in midfielder's career in French football.

Claudio Ranieri, meanwhile, was Leicester City's manager following the departure of Nigel Pearson in June, but Leicester were among the favourites to suffer relegation to the Championship.

Even after sealing Kanté's signature, the Club were still looking for a more immediate replacement for Esteban Cambiasso, who had decided to leave King Power Stadium for Olympiacos. A fortnight after signing the Frenchman, Ranieri secured the services of Switzerland icon Gökhan Inler from Italian giants Napoli and it seemed to all that he would take Cambiasso's place.

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N'Golo Kanté

Kanté arrival did not generate much interest in the football world.

Indeed, over the early weeks of the 2015/16 campaign, Andy King was preferred in central midfield, before Inler briefly stepped in, all while Kanté was initially utilised on the left of midfield.

The Foxes won four of their opening nine games, losing just once, in an impressive start to the season, but a maiden clean sheet under Ranieri still eluded Leicester. It was in late October that Ranieri lived up to his reputation as 'the Tinkerman' - a scratch he'd resisted itching up until that point  - and he switched Kanté into central midfield.

Crystal Palace were the visitors to King Power Stadium on Saturday 24 October, 2015 and, with Kanté alongside Danny Drinkwater in the middle, Leicester won the game 1-0, courtesy of Jamie Vardy's goal.

It was the former Fleetwood Town striker's seventh successive Premier League goalscoring outing and so all the headlines were centred on his own remarkable climb up football's pyramid.

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N'Golo Kanté

Ranieri arranged for City's players to make their own pizza after winning their first cleansheet.

At Belvoir Drive, though, there was an increasing buzz developing about the man who, on his first day at the Club, was mistaken for a first-year Academy graduate by security staff.

Kanté, of Malian descent, arrived in the East Midlands with just a single year of experience in either of French football's top two divisions, but his talent was there to see each day in training. The scenes which followed his first and only goal for Leicester in a 2-1 success over Watford on Filbert Way provided an indicator of just how much his new colleagues had warmed to Kanté.

City's players leapt onto the diminutive midfielder's shoulders after seeing his low effort fortuitously evade the grasp of Heurelho Gomes and trickle over the line in a win which left Leicester third in the league. 

From that moment on, the central midfield pairing of Drinkwater and Kanté was set in stone, with the latter breaking up play with relentless energy and offloading it to his more attacking team-mates.

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N'Golo Kanté

Kanté is mobbed by his Leicester team-mates after scoring his only goal for the Club.

Throughout the 2015/16 season, he topped the statistical tables for tackles (165) and interceptions (152) with a radar-like ability to win the ball. He was the engine room of Leicester's best-ever season.

One fan on social media later said: "70 per cent of the Earth is covered by sea; the rest is covered by N'Golo Kanté." Walsh, meanwhile, joked: "Drinkwater plays in the middle of a three, with Kanté either side."

As City edged closer and closer to achieving the impossible, defying pre-season odds of 5,000/1 to sit atop of the Premier League in 2016, Kanté also transferred his talents onto the international scene. In March 2016, the pocket-sized midfielder made his debut for France in a friendly against Russia, scoring the opener on his birthday in front of a packed Stade de France in his hometown of Paris.

By the middle of May, as the ticker tape which greeted Leicester's first-ever Premier League title success was swept away, Kanté had completed a one-year transformation from obscurity to the top of the game.

He was named in the PFA Team of the Year and, perhaps more notably, was voted by his Foxes team-mates as the Club's Players' Player of the Year in the annual awards ceremony at King Power Stadium.

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N'Golo Kanté

Kanté's importance to Leicester's unlikely title bid quickly became obvious to everyone.

Kanté's outing in the 3-1 victory over Everton, on the day of City's Premier League coronation, was the last time the Blue Army would see him pull on Leicester's colours on Filbert Way.

His time in Leicester was brief, a shooting star in the night sky, but his light continues to shine bright for the Club's supporters. Later that summer, Kanté joined Chelsea in a permanent transfer. 

Nonetheless, City fans will always remember his one year at King Power Stadium with fondness and looked on proudly in 2018 as Kanté became a world champion with France. The year following Leicester's title triumph, as Chelsea visited Leicester, Ranieri jokingly seized Kanté in a headlock and tried to haul him into the home dressing room. 

Speaking sometime later, Ranieri remembered: "I thought he must have a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts! He never stopped running in training.

"I had to tell him: 'Hey, N'Golo, slow down. Slow down. Don't run after the ball every time, okay?' He says to me: 'Yes, boss. Yes. Okay.' Ten seconds later, I look over and he's running again. I tell him: 'One day, I'm going to see you cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself!"

Leicester City Crest

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