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It wasn’t magic that got N’Golo Kanté to the very top

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Reflecting on his rise from the lower divisions to the top of Europe

FC Porto v Chelsea FC - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 3: Leg One Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

One day before Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League, 21-year-old N’Golo Kanté made his debut for US Boulogne in what was the last match of the 2011-12 Ligue 2 season in France. He played 11 minutes on that May 18, with his team relegated to the third division at the final whistle.

From that unassuming start, Kanté would rise steadily, unerringly, and practically without any fanfare to the very top of the footballing world. Two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a Europa League trophy, not to mention a World Cup and countless individual awards later, few would doubt his credentials as one of the very best midfielders of his generation. And I don’t mean just “defensive” midfielder, even if he’s most widely recognized for his uncanny ability to always be in the right place at the right time.

And now, he has a chance to win the one major trophy still missing, the Champions League. (And this summer he will also have the chance to add a European Championships with France, even.)

World Cup Champions France Portrait Session Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

People often marvel at Kanté’s magical rise and rise and rise, but as the ever humble Mini-driving bundle of adorableness is quick to point out, there’s been no magic about it, only hard work, determination, and a relentless drive to success. He may have been named after an 18th century king, Ngolo Diarra of Mali the Bambara Empire, but like his namesake, he started from the bottom to conquer his kingdom.

“Nine years ago, when I was playing for the reserves at Boulogne and made my professional debut in Ligue 2, I was very hungry and very hopeful in football. I didn’t know how far I could go; I just wanted to turn pro and do my best. To have got where I am today with Chelsea and to be lucky enough to play in a Champions League final, bearing in mind everything that’s happened in the meantime, is amazing.

“That said, it’s happened little by little, season after season, with wins, with losses, with joy and with disappointment. It’s shaped me as a player, and I think that it’s helped me become the player that I am today.”

-N’Golo Kanté; source: UEFA

We once believed N’Golo Kanté to be indestructible. His fairly frequent injuries over the past couple years have reminded us that nothing lasts forever and that we should appreciate our heroes whenever and while we can.

On Saturday, Kanté can be the biggest hero one more time and lead us to the promised land.

Chelsea v Liverpool - Premier League - Stamford Bridge Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images