Tribal Football

N'Golo Kante - version 2024: A flag-bearer for France - and also the Saudi Pro League

N'Golo Kante - version 2024: A flag-bearer for France - and also the Saudi Pro League
N'Golo Kante - version 2024: A flag-bearer for France - and also the Saudi Pro League
N'Golo Kante - version 2024: A flag-bearer for France - and also the Saudi Pro League Profimedia
COMMENT: No-one saw this coming... well, that is, at least no-one except Didier Deschamps. At 33 and playing outside of Europe, N'Golo Kante has stamped himself not only as France's most influential player at the Euros, but arguably the most impactful of anyone across the entire tournament.

As we say, no-one saw this coming. Indeed, many were dead against it, including Kante's fellow World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit. But those critics aren't saying so much now.


Rolling back the years? Rediscovering his old self? No. This Kante. The 2024 Kante. Refreshed. Revitalised. And most importantly loved and supported at Al-Ittihad and across Saudi Arabia. This version of Kante is one we never saw in the Premier League. The Leicester City and Chelsea title winner is now passing through the lines - as Antonio Conte would demand back in the day at the Cobham complex. He's performing stepovers. Sinking markers with dummies. He's a different player. More expressive. More creative. Perhaps, dare we say, more courageous in his distribution. 

That's not to say the Kante of the Blue shirts of Leicester and Chelsea is unrecognisable. He still mops up. He's still covering the mistakes of teammates. And he's still making those last ditch interventions - as he did against Kevin Wimmer in the win against Austria.

The Saudi Pro League has worked wonders on Kante's fitness and belief. And now he's repaying the favour with his form in Germany. Before signing with Al-Ittihad, Kante had come off a season at Chelsea with just the nine appearances. The new regime had little interest in retaining him. And the nastiness and the venom of the local press, particularly those paid for their opinion, had even reached the nicest man in football.

"Last year at Chelsea, I didn't play that much," stated Kante before the Euros kicked off. "In Saudi Arabia, I was able to play a full season, I played a lot of matches. I think that's what allowed me to be here. I'm happy to have made this choice. It's a league with a lot of quality players. The pace is less sustained than in the Premier League. 

"It's a league that could be good in the future." 

Indeed, a year on and Kante, Al-Ittihad and those running the show inside SPL HQ can feel justified with their investment. After his fitness struggles in London, Kante made 44 appearances for Al-Ittihad last season. The tempo of the league, the conditions and the support from inside the club and across the SPL lifted the player. Making this move has done wonders. And as we say, Kante is repaying the confidence shown by his displays in Germany.

With the summer market now open, players and agents will be taking notice. The SPL couldn't have a better flag-bearer than Kante and how he is performing for Les Bleus. Yes, of course, there is Cristiano Ronaldo. But Kante's situation is different. He is a walking advertisement for all the benefits the SPL can offer a top-line player. Two UEFA man-of-the-match awards further confirming Kante's impact. And as such, buoyed by the belief and confidence that such form will bring a player, the Frenchman can see another club move beyond Al-Ittihad still within reach.

“I don’t think my European career is over, I would love to come back (to Europe)," he said this week. "I had a really good year in Saudi Arabia. 

"It’s a different type of football and experience, but I’m really happy to be back with France. It’s beautiful."

A retirement home? A veteran's graveyard? No chance. Not when the SPL can transform and rescue a career as it has with Kante. 

Nasser Larguet, the former Olympique Marseille coach, now technical director of the Saudi FA, says Kante's performances with Al-Ittihad were as good as anything he's shown in his career. 

"From the start of the season, as soon as I arrived, I was struck by his intensity," stated Larguet. "It's incredible, after last season at Chelsea where he was so often injured, he had found his 20-year-old legs again.

"In a region where the climate is not always mild, with the heat and humidity, Kanté is capable of playing matches of 90 minutes and more at high intensity. He didn't come here in pre-retirement, he is very involved, he was even captain of his team. Didier Deschamps' choice is very objective, N'Golo Kanté deserves his selection, he is at his best level."

That's just it. Kante embraced this Saudi move. He saw it an as opportunity. A chance to rebuild. And that attitude and application has been repaid. With the group phase now over, Kante is the big story to come from the Euros thus far. But further, he's also the biggest thing to come out of the SPL.

Deschamps saw it. And before him, the recruitment staff at Al-Ittihad and the SPL were the same. As much as he offers France, N'Golo Kante's form in Germany promises an even greater impact on the Saudi Pro League and it's future.