The enduring image of N’Golo Kante in the wake of France‘s second World Cup triumph came not in the pouring rain of Moscow.
Nothing amid the tears and ticker-tape of Luzhniki Stadium would resonate like the party in Paris a few weeks later.
Following that 4-2 victory over Croatia, the Stade de France enjoyed a homecoming bash for Didier Deschamps’ victorious side. The night began with a 2-1 win over Holland. From there, one by one, the players were brought back on to the pitch.
N’Golo Kante with the World Cup trophy after France’s victory over Croatia in Moscow in 2018
As ‘numero treize’ stepped through the smoke, he turned to salute the crowd. He gave a thumbs up and then tapped the top of the glistening trophy.
The midfielder looked sheepish, an almost embarrassed smile stretched across his face as he wandered through a gauntlet of high-fives, into the arms of Deschamps and towards his team-mates.
Minutes later, he was hoisted on to the shoulders of Benjamin Mendy and Blaise Matuidi as the Stade de France serenaded their midfielder with one of the anthems of that golden summer. ‘N’Golo, N’Golo, Kante!’
Kante lifts the trophy aloft alongside Paul Pogba, with a sheepish expression on his face
His uneasy laugh illustrated a man more at ease in the shadows. The weight of fame and adoration has never sat comfortably on the shoulders of a man so at odds with stereotypical superstars.
But Kante’s smile belied the tragedy which had engulfed his preparations for that glorious summer.
Only a few weeks before the World Cup, Kante’s elder brother Niama died of a heart attack. Nevertheless, the midfielder travelled to Russia and shone en route to the final, when he played through a stomach bug. Kante is not one to cause a fuss.
Before last season’s Europa League final he was struck down by injury. The prognosis wasn’t encouraging.
But unfazed, the midfielder took to the pitch in Baku and delivered another masterful performance to secure his third trophy in Chelsea blue. He has grown used to playing through pain.
Kante’s infectious smile belied the tragedy which engulfed his 2018 World Cup preparations
The midfielder played through the pain as Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Europa League final
Kante lost his father aged 11 but still rose to become one of the greatest players in the world. It is testament to his concern then that the Chelsea star was given permission to miss the first days of Project Restart.
With the full support of manager Frank Lampard, the 29-year-old will continue to train at home as preparations gather pace for the return of the Premier League.
Reports suggest he could miss the rest of the campaign. Kante tested negative for coronavirus earlier this week but he has safety concerns during the ongoing pandemic.
He is not alone – Watford captain Troy Deeney is staying away too over fears for his son’s health.
Kante (second left) attended training on Tuesday but is now staying at home at…