Paul Pogba believes his France teammate N’Golo Kante would be a worthy winner of the Ballon d’Or after playing a key role in Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League success.
It was not too long ago that speculation suggesting Chelsea were tempted to cash in on Kante was rife, with the midfielder struggling with a few injuries in 2019-20.
But he enjoyed a strong 2020-21, evidenced particularly by his performances towards the end of the season in the Champions League.
The 30-year-old stamped his presence all over the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid and was named man of the match for both legs in a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
During the second encounter in London, Kante made five interceptions – only bettered by six from Jorginho – but also made more passes in the opposition half (25) and created more chances (three) than any other Chelsea player.
Heading into the final, he was one of just six midfielders in the 2020-21 competition with a passing accuracy above 85 per cent (86.4), an accuracy into the final third of above 80 per cent (82.1), more than 40 ball recoveries (63), over 500 touches (511) and at least 25 possession wins in the middle third of the pitch (42).
Then, in the final itself, Kante won 11 of 15 duels, recovered the ball 10 times for his team, and, as the shortest man on the pitch, won four out of seven aerial duels – nobody on his team won more. Chelsea beat Manchester City 1-0, with Kante a vital component as Pep Guardiola’s men lost the midfield battle.
While some in the past might have limited Kante’s strengths to the more defensive aspects of the game, his form in the Champions League highlighted that to be unfair, with the FIFA World Cup winner actually a far greater all-round player than many give him credit for.
Indeed, international colleague Pogba thinks he is deserving of the most illustrious individual prize of all.
“What I would like to say to the whole world is that the ‘NG’ we have seen in recent months has always been the same,” Pogba told Eurosport. “We talk a lot about his performances but he has always been as good as ever.
“There was no Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Lionel] Messi in the semi-final, so it’s good to see the performances of the midfielders or even the defenders.
“I said a long time ago that it would be appropriate, if Chelsea won, for him to win the Ballon d’Or. It would be deserved, too.
“He’s always performed well. I’m not surprised by what he’s doing, I’m just surprised that he’s still doing it. He has always played matches like that.”