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N'Golo Kante is ahead of both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2021 Ballon d'Or running after his man of the match performance in the Champions League final.
The 5ft 6in Chelsea dynamo dominated midfield in his side's 1-0 win over Manchester City, winning 11 duels, recovering the ball 10 times and even somehow winning the most aerial duels (an impressive four).
This - coupled with the France World Cup winner's humble, understated ways and his career achievements so far - have led to early calls for him to be among the Ballon d'Or favourites. The oddsmakers do not disagree.
Kante is currently around 5/1 to win the most coveted individual prize in football this year with Messi at 7/1 and Ronaldo at 10/1, despite the pair finishing respectively as La Liga and Serie A top-scorers for the season just gone.
The 30-year-old Kante, who was playing in the French second division in 2014 but is now viewed as the best in the world in his position, is behind only two players in the bookies' odds.
Robert Lewandowski, who broke Gerd Muller's single-season scoring record in the Bundesliga, is just ahead as second favourite. In first place is Kylian Mbappe, who's been in excellent form in 2021 despite Paris Saint-Germain's failure to defend their Ligue 1 crown.
Not even slightly kidding, if Modric won a Ballon D'Or then Kante deserves one for this.- Louis (@SpeedOfLouis) May 29, 2021
N'golo Kante is a good shout for the Ballon D'or, easily been the best player in the Champions League- Trey:star::star::star: (@UTDTrey) May 30, 2021
Kante in the Round of 16 2nd leg: Player of the Match- ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 29, 2021
Kante in the semifinal 1st leg: Player of the Match
Kante in the semifinal 2nd leg: Player of the Match
Kante in the final of the Champions League: Player of the Match
Give this man the Ballon d'Or :blue_heart: pic.twitter.com/InbmjEURyV
"Thinking of Ballon d'Or? No... WE are savouring the Champions' League, then there's the Euros".- Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 29, 2021
"Man of the match? It's secondary. The main thing is what WE did".
N'Golo Kanté will be offered a new long-term contract from Chelsea in the next weeks. :large_blue_circle: #CFC #Kanté pic.twitter.com/Ss2yEVV36b
Often the player who excels at a major international tournament, if there is one, has a strong claim to that year's Ballon d'Or, so if Mbappe leads from the front and France win this summer's Euros he will be hard to beat. Although Kante will likely be just behind him in that side.
The push for Kante to win is in part because he is such an unshowy individual playing in an unglamorous defensive midfield position. The kind of player who doesn't pick up this sort of award too often - although Kante did win the PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 after he won the Premier League with Chelsea (having won it the previous year with Leicester).
Messi, with six Ballon d'Ors, and Ronaldo, boasting five awards, have dominated the standings in recent years. Since 2008, only Luka Modric in 2018 broke the stranglehold (although the award was cancelled last year due to the pandemic or Bayern Munich's Lewandowski would likely have been recognised).
Can Kante really become an unlikely Ballon d'Or winner? This summer's Euros may hold the key.
All imagery: PA Images/Twitter
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