Even as he contemplated the defeat of his own personal ambition, Eden Hazard make an eloquent case for why it is his team-mate N’Golo Kante who truly does deserve the PFA Player of the Year award, bestowed deep into Sunday night at London’s Grovesnor Hotel.
“N'Golo deserves it,” Hazard generously said before the award was announced. “Not only for this season but for his two seasons together in the Premier League. He is my favourite and I hope he gets it because that would be something for a player who do not always score and decide the matches. He is decisive but in a different way. And that would be good for football.”
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Not for the first or last time this season, Kante has taken possession with authority.
Back in December, Kante, a tenacious bundle of midfield craft and graft, was named this website’s Man of the Year for 2016. That honour was indisputable. As the driving force behind the two best teams of the year - the Leicester team which won the title and the Chelsea side who went on a remarkable winning streak to give them an excellent chance of replacing them as champions – nobody came close to Kante in 2016. But the PFA award is for 2016-17, and that warrants closer consideration.
Hazard may have said that if he won he was planning to “invite N'Golo to come to me with the stage … so, we can divide it with two”, but there is an undeniably strong case that it should have been the Belgian up there, holding his second such award in three years. Hazard has been phenomenal for Antonio Conte this season, with his cameo at Wembley on Saturday demonstrating as much as he scored and collected an assist after coming on as a substitute in the 4-2 win over Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final.
Hazard has been the most entertaining player this season, surely the best attacker, and is responsible for one of the best goals of the season in the shape of his solo effort against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. There have been so many virtuoso moments from a player who has decided so many matches. And yet, as Hazard said in his own words, it is no bad thing if football recognises a player like Kante for once.

Eden Hazard et N'Golo Kanté

Image credit: Getty Images

This is still a sport which values attack over defence, an industry in which Real Madrid could chuck away Claude Makelele because they wanted more Galacticos. It probably will always be this way. Goals are the most visible component of what wins games. They are also the most valuable contribution a player can make. Kante could have three interceptions and three tackles every game but when Hazard nicks a last-minute winner it supersedes anything else.
All this is true, and yet there is no harm in occasionally celebrating other qualities which are needed to win matches, the qualities Kante embodies, the selfless hard work which gives others the platform to shine.
As his manager Antonio Conte said back in March: “I like a lot these type of players. I was this type of player. And I always appreciated this type of player, with great generosity, great ability to work for the team. I think it's important to have this type of player if we want to win. Not only great talent, but players who run a lot during a game. He's an example. N'Golo is a fantastic guy, fantastic player, great commitment, great behaviour. A great example.”
Kante is not willing to let his humble exterior crack, even despite such lavish praise. Earlier this month he told the Daily Mirror:
I am not one of the best midfielders in the world or something like that. I need to keep improving tactically, defensively and offensively for the last pass, the last shot.
And yet despite this apparent room for improvement, here we are with Kante being crowned not only the best midfielder in England, but the best player. It is extraordinary that a holding midfielder has won this award – the first outwardly defensive player since Paul McGrath in 1992-93 – but that is exactly what Kante is: extraordinary, in the most unextraordinary of ways.
-- Tom Adams
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