The story of N’Golo Kante is unbelievable to the extent that it deserves a moment of reflection on here, a Manchester United website.
He arrived at Leicester City in the summer 2015 from Caen, causing quite literally no stir in the footballing world aside from the occasional murmur of “who on earth is he?” from supporters.
Since then, the Frenchman’s steel has guided Leicester to without doubt the most unlikely of Premier League triumphs, before then helping Chelsea to cement their status as Champions-elect for this season, leaving Leicester – seemingly lost without Kante’s verve at the core of midfield – in a gloomy relegation battle. His raw power, indefatigable work rate and vision of the game has given surrounding players an air of invincibility from day one.
And yet, there is someone who sits above Kante in the table for tackles and interceptions this season: Ander Herrera, with 30 compared to the Frenchman’s 28.
The Spaniard’s transformation from ambiguous, occasionally useful squad player to indispensable midfield asset under Jose Mourinho has been nothing short of spellbinding. But the change has been brought about by relatively simple means.
Mourinho arrived in June having witnessed Herrera – either from his managerial seat at Chelsea or from his armchair in London – struggle to carve out an identity at Old Trafford, with Louis van Gaal seemingly unable to find a set role for the 27-year-old.
And so, when the Portuguese arrived in June, he handed Herrera a clear role: as the physical, unyielding enforcer in a midfield triumvirate comprising also of Paul Pogba‘s innovation and Michael Carrick‘s poise.
He now charges across the pitch with a sense of clear purpose, unflaggingly harassing opponents and dominating midfield battles with little more than raw steel. Such a role, it has to be said, has fundamentally changed Herrera’s fortunes at Man United.