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Kanté: Big love for France's little man

Didier Deschamps says he deserves the Ballon d'Or and Paul Pogba reckons he has 15 lungs – EURO2020.com's David Crossan throws the spotlight on the ever reluctant N'Golo Kanté.

N'Golo Kanté
N'Golo Kanté UEFA via Getty Images

France midfielder N'Golo Kanté has achieved the rare feat of being universally loved by his team-mates and respected by his opponents. The UEFA Champions League winner with Chelsea is the player Les Bleus will look to to make them tick against Switzerland in the round of 16 in Bucharest on Monday.

Live build-up: France vs Switzerland

Kanté has been his usual all-action self since the beginning of UEFA EURO 2020, covering more ground (32km) than any other France player, and tidy with the ball as well, completing 90% of his passes. He's the ultimate Monsieur Dependable.

Centre-half Raphaël Varane told EURO2020.com: "Everyone loves N'Golo. He is a great team-mate and a great person. He is loved by everyone. He has an unusual personality, and he is very shy, but on the pitch he is so generous, he puts in that extra effort in order to win the ball back, and then go forwards. He is a special player and a special person, too."

Deschamps is full of praise for Kanté
Deschamps is full of praise for KantéAFP via Getty Images

Standing at 169cm, Kanté is small in stature but his influence is enormous. France coach Didier Deschamps declared pre-tournament: "He deserves the Ballon d'Or. He's one of the engines of the France team and the place he occupies in it has nothing to do with his size as it is enormous!"

Having made his international debut in 2016, Kanté became a nationally revered figure as France won the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. At the post-tournament presidential reception at the Elysée Palace in Paris, Paul Pogba memorably grabbed the microphone to sing The Kanté Song as a grinning Deschamps hugged the midfielder and the rest of the squad joined in on backing vocals. The lyrics go: "He's small, he's nice, he stopped Leo Messi, but we all know he's a cheat, N'Golo Kanté!"

On a lung-busting run: luckily, he has 14 more
On a lung-busting run: luckily, he has 14 morePOOL/AFP via Getty Images

Pogba explained: "N'Golo cheats loads when you play him at cards or board games, even in possession games in training. He says he doesn't cheat but he's a cunning one is N'Golo, and he gets away with it. He's the most loved footballer in the history of the game. You can't dislike him. He's humble, kind, professional. He never complains and he works hard."

Known as NG to his team-mates, Kanté's work ethic astounds his fellow players – and makes their jobs easier. After a magnificent Kanté display against Peru at the World Cup, Pogba joked: "He's got 15 lungs. Football is much easier when you play with someone like that."

Watch Giroud's France baby photo challenge
Watch Giroud's France baby photo challenge

Kanté shuns the limelight and doesn't like giving interviews. Yet, in a sport in which coaches and players aren't always happy to discuss individuals, everybody enjoys talking about him. Presnel Kimpembe told EURO2020.com: "You can't dislike N'Golo. He's always smiling and is very positive. He gets along with everyone and, above all, he shows his quality on the pitch."

Even opponents are charmed. Hungary coach Marco Rossi said: "If I could, I'd vote for him for Ballon d'Or, that's for sure. He's a very complete player, who has come up from almost nothing in order to reach the summit of the world game. It's impossible not to admire him, it's impossible to criticise him."

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