N'Golo Kanté is one of the best players currently playing in the Premier Leauge—a fact that can be often lost through coded language. Though, If I genuinely believe that he is one of the best, why isn't he treated that way? It's a question that presents itself as a nagging annoyance, like a fly you swat away hoping that your actions have discouraged it from coming back your way, but even after a small respite, it comes buzzing again. Kanté's treatment—or lack thereof—shouldn't bother me, but it does, because it serves as another example of how black footballers are grouped together in this monolithic box, labelled, 'Physical Specimens'.
If I asked you to describe Kanté as a player in three words, which words would be percolating in your mind? Be honest, was it—in no particular order—strong, fast, powerful? I thought so.
N’Golo Kanté, is a midfield enforcer, but did you know that he’s also a microphone controller? He destroys the beat of the opponent’s attack, rebuilds, and creates his own melodic tone, with such ease you’d think he was in his own home. It comes across that way at times—watching him saunter around the pitch, putting out fires without breaking as much of a sweat.
Yes, he is strong, and yes, he glides across the pitch with effortless ease, but why should your compliments start and end so prematurely? You mean only his physical attributes stand out to you? Your mouth dries aridly, your jaw stiffens at the thought of even suggesting anything more. You'd rather omit from your observation how well he reads the game with such clairvoyance. But your views so myopic that when you look upon his dark, melanin-rich skin, only words that connote power, you own in abundance.
This arrives as no shock, as commentators of football games have long treated black footballers like a segregationist, describing them differently from their white counterparts. Take, for example, Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne, who in all of his abnormal excellency, will always be labelled with superlatives that connote divinity and artistry, but players like Kanté, Paul Pogba or Abdoulaye Doucouré are left to be donned with more physical labels as if they were genetically predisposed to stay within their lines. Sounds awfully familiar.
Still, how can someone who presents himself as a one-man fortress, someone who has never seen his jersey sullied by the green of the turf, not be seen as artful? A diminutive human, who is so light-footed, you won't even hear him coming. Seen as a boogieman to the opposition, but a gold-medalist figure skater to his fans, as the blades of grass beneath him sway—never breaking—like a cool summer’s breeze, from every soundless step he takes. He truly does play the game with pure grace, yet you see brutality?
It’s time to change the narrative. Journalists and pundits—all alike in their myopia—with their lazy coverage do not see the issue that perpetuates racism. Their language is so well coded, so well ingrained into the lexicon of football jargon, that they do not see the invisible barriers that keep colours from mixing, and with that, they remain dumbfounded when racism within the sport is pointed out. The diversity of the Premier Leauge is what they cling to as their bastion, against claims of racism. You cannot aim to point out racism when you are in fact fanning its flames with the way players like Kanté, are subjected to the limitations of your ignorant stereotypes.
The coded language is a dialect that is spoken across many sports. Serena Williams, Cam Newton, Lebron James, are just some of the black athletes at the top of their respective sports that can attest to how oppressive these limitations being placed on them feel. They're forever shackled by their physicality, with their intelligence never allowing to see the light. “Oh what power, and strength!” they bellow from their grandstands, but what about their elegance? What about their majestic performances that linger in the air like an expensive fragrance?
Back to Kanté though, who’s en route to becoming a back-to-back Premier League champion—with two different teams. That's a fact that bears no other companion. Despite all this, he’s probably none the wiser. He comes, destroys, conquers, and then leaves humbly in his white Mini Cooper. But don’t worry N’Golo, there are others out there who can see the gem you are, it’s just a shame that for the near-sighted people, whose eyesight isn't trained to see so far.