It's hard to believe just five years ago N'Golo Kante was playing in the eighth division of French football for little Parisien club Suresnes.
Kante, who honed his craft playing relentlessly in the streets of Paris and is one of nine siblings, has certainly come a long way since. When speaking about playing as a youngster, it's utterly refreshing to hear how much he just loves his football. “I loved it so much I played all the time,” he recalled.
“I played before school, at school, after school, then I’d go to my club and train or play a match, and after that I’d have another kick about with my friends until it got too dark!”
Standing a tiny 5ft 5in, the Malian descendant became used to people writing him off for being too small, but courtesy of his remarkable running power, dedication and never say die attitude he's suitably overcome the many obstacles that have been placed in his path and continually proven his doubters wrong.
Despite undertaking trials with many of France's finest clubs and enduring the disappointment of numerous rejections, Kante admirably never gave up on his dreams. And his perseverance duly paid off when, as a 19-year-old, Boulogne snapped him up.
“It was weird. I went to plenty of trials, you know. There were plenty of opportunities at the trials but whether I was too young, hadn’t developed enough or just wasn’t ready, I don’t know. None of them worked out,” he explained.
“I went to lots of places. I went to Clairefontaine, the French FA training centre. I went to Rennes, Sochaux, Lorient and others. There were a lot of teams and they were spread out geographically too.
“It was when I left my own environment in Suresnes and played for Boulogne that I finally started to have a desire and a belief that I could make it as a professional footballer.”
Once at Boulogne, where he had to earn his stripes with the reserves playing in the sixth tier, he quickly made an impact as he helped the side obtain promotion. The following season saw him propelled into the club's first-team and came with the brilliant opportunity for him to prove himself in the third tier.
It didn't long for Ligue 2 outfit Caen to stand up and take notice of the tigerish midfielder, with the Normandy based club shrewdly securing his services on a free in 2013. Kante's incredible upward trajectory amazingly continued at his new home, with his inspirational showings helping lift his side to an unexpected third place in the league and promotion to Ligue 1.
Unsurprisingly, Kante adjusted beautifully to life in France's top flight too, in a season where he averaged more tackles per game than any other Ligue 1 player, with 4.9, on his way to helping Patrice Garande's men achieve a splendid 13th place finish for the 2014/15 campaign.
Steve Walsh, Leicester's brilliant assistant and head of recruitment, had crucially taken notice of the diminutive warrior's exemplary work and, having obviously done his due diligence, advised the club to sign Kante.
And what a magnificent piece of business it's turned out to be, as he's undoubtedly been one of the signings of the season. His energy, intensity, aggression and intelligence have all been vital in the Foxes' barely believeble campaign.
Currently sitting eight points clear atop the Premier League ladder, Kante's been immense throughout. It's truly remarkable to see how well he's adapted to life in England in just his first season, something the the 25-year-old is also a bit surprised about. “Sometimes, I think about where I am today and I tell myself that things are coming very quickly,” he said. “I have to step up and give my best each time.
“It has given me a chance to be able to play the Euros in France. This is my first selection. I will do what I have always done: concentrate on this first one and give my maximum. For the Euros, the manager will make a decision. We will see what he decides.”
The terrific understanding he's formed with Danny Drinkwater at the heart of midfield has been another key reason behind the team's success. The pair just understand each other so well and are always willing to support one another and their teammates. Their formidable cohesion and tactical intelligence to perform their roles perfectly has most definitely been crucial in ensuring Leicester have remained defensively secure, while also giving them vast quality in attack to drive the team forward.
Just as he did in Ligue 1 last term, Kante currently tops the Premier League for most tackles per game, with 4.5. Moreover, he's also second in interceptions pg, applying 4.1 a match, which places him just behind Idrissa Gueye of Aston Villa, who's on 4.4.
Kante's astute ability to read the play, along with his obvious athletic and physical capabilities, have played a massive part in his capacity to cut out opposition attacks. “I think I’ve always had that ability to intercept and win the ball back,” says Kante. “Also to hold onto the ball, retain it and dribble with it, all from playing with my mates.”
Claudio Ranieri's adulation of this aspect of his game is clearly evident, with the Italian recently musing: “He is fantastic because he reads the situation very well.”
“He attracts the ball. He is very smart and very fast in his movement. He can be a favourite, not only for the fans but also for his teammates. When we all watch the video of him chasing the ball everybody says ‘wow!'”
All things considered, it's little wonder he's received a nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award courtesy of his consistently excellent displays. The legendary former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, even recently claimed “N'Golo Kante is by far the best player in the Premier League this season”. High praise indeed from such a well respected figure.
Being so good at the defensive side of the game means his attacking qualities can, at times, tend to get overlooked. But the technically proficient Kante, who's added a notable four goals and three assists this season, has been similarly exceptional in an offensive sense. Whether embarking on one of his customary lungbusting forward runs, showcasing his tidy passing repetoire or weaving his magic in tight spaces he's contributed wonderfully in this regard.
With Leicester in the box seat to achieve what would be a truly astonishing title triumph, you can guarantee their uncompromising French international will do everything in his power to help his team ensure they complete their fairytale season.
And wouldn't that be the perfect way to signify just how far he's come since playing football in the Parisien suburbs all those years ago.