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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Leipzig Stadium

There are a million fading ex-Chelsea stars out there in the fooballverse - but this one continues to sparkle

N'Golo Kante Picture by Yann Tear
N'Golo Kante Picture by Yann Tear

By Yann Tear at Leipzig Stadium


As Andy Warhol once remarked: 'We live in an era where everybody will play for Chelsea for 15 minutes,' or something like that.


The Friday night cast list in Leipzig for Holland v France seemed to bear that out. There was Nathan Ake for the Dutch, Olivier Giroud for the French, who are led by Didier Deschamps - he of 27 appearance for the Blues in the 1999-2000 season.


And didn't Holland boss Ronald Koeman once play for the Blues? He should have done. Ruud Gullit did. Everyone does at some stage.


But there was still one guy who wore the Chelsea gene with even greater prominence in a match that carried plenty of vim and intrigue, but also some caution as it ended 0-0 - a result that suits both sides in all reality. Both will advance to the knock-outs.


That man was the same one who was outstanding in the previous France group game in the Euros, which ended in a 1-0 win against Austria in Dusseldorf.


N'Golo Kante, it could be argued, has stolen more than his 15 minutes of fame in Chelsea blue and his was a display that must have had watching fans from Stamford Bridge wondering how on earth he was ever allowed to leave.


Kante has no right to be as good as this. He took up the offer of untold riches in the Saudi league and that was supposed to be it for the 33-year-old. A final huge payday with Al -Ittihad, having effectively signed off from 'proper football'


Yet his return to the international fold, two years after having seemingly renounced that side of his career, has been miraculous. He is back playing with as much energy and gumption as ever.


Netherlands v France at Leipzig Stadium Picture by Paul Lagan
Netherlands v France at Leipzig Stadium Picture by Wideboygeorge

He still has that amazing engine on him. Still sniffs out danger. Keeps getting forward to link up attacks. It's a bit perplexing and makes a mockery of perceived wisdom about career trajectories. ³


Deschamps is utterly convinced by the little man's ability to resume the role that helped France become world champions in 2018. On the latest evidence, so is everyone else.


"N'Golo keeps running," an appreciative Deschamps said after the game. "But he doesn't just do that. He provides solidity and links well with the other midfielders. He gives us a variety which isn't always easy for the opposition to read."


View from the press box Picture by Yann Tear
View from the press box Picture by Yann Tear

Kante still carries the countenance of humble shyness. He was more comfortable talking about the quality of his team-mates rather than himself but did admit to a certain pride at being back in the international fold.


"Retuning to the national squad is always special, " he said. "It always was and like before I want to give the maximum. I think we have some great players and we hope to take first place in the group on Tuesday [in the final game against Poland].


There was no Kylian Mbappe in Leipzig, the striker was left out as he recovers from a broken nose. He has not played for Chelsea yet, and has opted for Real Madrid next season, but it's surely only a matter of time.

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