N’Golo Kante turned into an Olympic slalom champion for this Saudi golazo
With all the big-name players moving to Saudi Arabia this summer, N’Golo Kante’s departure from Chelsea to Al Ittihad went somewhat under the radar – but his first goal for his new club has reaffirmed our love for the midfielder.
Kante helped Leicester City win the Premier League in the 2015-16 season before moving to Stamford Bridge and becoming one of the best midfielders in the club’s history.
Between 2016 and 2023, the France international won the Champions League, Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.
He was also named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year for 2016-17, while playing a key role as France won the World Cup in 2018.
When his departure from English football was announced, Chelsea co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said: “N’Golo’s impact and influence during his time at Chelsea cannot be overstated.
“His tireless performances in midfield contributed to several trophy wins and has guaranteed him a place in the club’s history.”
Despite playing alongside Karim Benzema, it was Kante who metamorphosed into an Olympic slalom champion to score the winning goal in Al Ittihad’s 2-1 victory over Al-Fateh.
With the scores level, Kante’s first two touches were divine as he skipped around a helpless opponent and shifted the ball onto his gun foot.
What followed was practically orgasmic; the former Chelsea midfielder cracked his shot unerringly towards the top corner. Adding to the aesthetic pleasure of the moment, the ball kissed the crossbar before nestling in the Al-Fateh net.
Ever modest, Kante refused to celebrate his goal with any great emotion while the crowd went bananas around him.
N'Golo Kante has scored his first goal in Saudi Arabia… and it was a scorcher!pic.twitter.com/QzYIzIdj0v
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) September 22, 2023
For most of his career in England, Kante had been seen as purely a defensive midfielder, but his former boss Antonio Conte believed he could be the perfect all-rounder and quickly encouraged him to break lines and dribble forwards.
Reflecting on their time together at Stamford Bridge in The Telegraph, Conte said: “He is amazing with and without the ball. When you have N’Golo in your team, you can think you are playing with one player more.
“You can find a smile on his face every day. He is a very positive guy. He is one of the best players I have had in my career as a coach.”
Thomas Tuchel, who brilliantly kept Kante at his peak for the 2021 Champions League triumph, was even more effusive in his praise for the man he called ‘NG’ while highlighting just how much Chelsea missed the midfielder when he was injured.
“I think he is our key, key, key player but key, key, key players need to be on the pitch and if he plays only 40 per cent of the games, it is maybe a miracle that we arrive in third place. He is our Mo Salah, our (Virgil) van Dijk, our (Kevin) De Bruyne.
“He is simply that player. He is our Neymar, our Kylian Mbappe, he is the guy who makes the difference and if you only have him 40 per cent, it is a huge problem.”
However hard it may be to summon any great affection for the Saudi league, Kante is still admired by the majority of football supporters of all persuasions.
And his first goal for his new club was almost dream-like in its perfection. Go well, N’Golo.
By Michael Lee