(Reuters) - Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante was named player of the year by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) on Sunday, adding another chapter to the remarkable story of a player who was plying his trade in the French sixth tier a few seasons ago.
The 26-year-old France midfielder, who joined Chelsea from English champions Leicester City before the season started, is the fourth Frenchman to lift the award after Eric Cantona, David Ginola and twice winner Thierry Henry.
Kante fended off competition from Chelsea team mate Eden Hazard, Tottenham Hotspur forward Harry Kane, Manchester United’s leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Everton striker Romelu Lukaku and Arsenal talisman Alexis Sanchez.
The defensive midfielder, who was named on the short-list for the second year in a row after helping Leicester to win the Premier League last season, has been instrumental to Chelsea’s hopes of winning the title in this campaign.
Kante has scored one league goal and provided one assist this season, but it is his ability to break up play and shield Chelsea’s defense that has been key for the team, with the midfielder making 110 tackles and 72 interceptions.
Kante joined Leicester from French top-tier side Caen in August 2015 for a reported nine million euros ($9.65 million) and his value more than tripled in his first season in England, when Chelsea paid 35.8 million euros to bring him to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are four points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the league with six games to play and face Arsenal in the FA Cup final after beating London rivals Spurs in the semi-final at Wembley on Saturday.
Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli, 21, was named PFA Young Player of the Year for the second time in a row, with Spurs still hoping to win their first league title since 1961.
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Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Ken Ferris