It was Steve Walsh’s famous line about N’Golo Kante which sprung to mind as the Frenchman stopped another Manchester City attack.
The Leicester scout was reflecting on that improbable title win back in 2015-16 and revealed the secret of that team’s success. ‘We play Danny Drinkwater in midfield and N’Golo Kante either side of him,’ quipped Walsh.
It feels like that with Kante. ‘He’s here! He’s there! He’s everywhere! N’Golo! N’Golo!’ roared the Chelsea fans periodically throughout the game. Except they insert another word into that chant to make it scan better. Kante may not fully approve of the language, as a modest, quietly-spoken Muslim. He will undoubtedly understand and appreciate the sentiment.
On the night, Pep Guardiola sought to jettison holding midfielders, Kante seemed to be the reminder of tactical basics. Except that he is also so much more than the classic holding player. At times his surges forward into space were a launching pad for Chelsea attacks.
As the celebrations kicked in there were some lovely cameos. Kurt Zouma just picked Kante up and ran around with him in his arms, which was appropriate as Kante has been carrying teams ever since he turned up in England in 2015, fresh from Caen, a move which would now not be permitted because of Brexit rules.
Then he finally got his hands on the trophy. Now everyone who knows Kante will tell you he is the most unassuming type. Famously he used to travel to training at Boulogne on a scooter; at Leicester he had a battered old car; when he came to Chelsea, his idea of an upgrade was to buy a Mini. A new one, granted, but it still looked diminutive parked next to all those Overfinch Range Rovers.
But on this occasion he had earned the right to showboat a little. So he grabbed the Cup and repeatedly lifted it as the Chelsea fans roared, his broad smile radiating goodwill.
‘We were relentless in the performance,’ said Thomas Tuchel afterwards and it was the ideal word to use of all of them, but especially Kante.
From losing the experience of Thiago Silva to injury in the first half, with Andreas Christensen stepping in and barely putting a foot wrong, there was a unity and structure to Chelsea exemplified by Kante. He is a World Cup winner with France, two time Premier League winner, FA Cup winner, Europa League winner and now Champions League winner. Never has a player made so little fuss of accumulating all the major trophies in English and world football.
Other heroes abounded. When it was all over Antonio Rudiger ran to the corner and celebrated with fans. Were any of those who clutched him in their embrace the same people who blamed him when Frank Lampard left the club? Might some who cheered from beyond these stands be among those who racially abused him for some perceived fault of not supporting the former manager, some invented disloyalty?
If they were, they should at least have the grace to reflect on Sunday morning on their hostility and hatred. No-one played with more heart than Rudiger. The block on 28 minutes to deny Phil Foden, which was really the one time Guardiola’s gameplan came to fruition, was immense and the platform on which victory was built.
Rudiger had spoken in the week of his childhood in the Neukolln estate in Berlin, the child of war refuges from Sierra Leone determined to establish a greater foothold in German life for his parents. He spoke of racism and prejudice, of leaving home at 16 to build a new life. He suffered this season, even the horror of racial abuse from his own supporters. This was his redemption and the shaming of those who ignorant enough to question him.
‘The effort was huge,’ said Tuchel. ‘We endured some difficult moments, some dangerous moments. Losing Thiago Silva didn’t make this easier. But we stayed brave in the formation.’
None was braver than Mason Mount, who plays with a joie de vivre that belies his age. Around him we were watching experienced Manchester City players, seasoned internationals, seemingly bewildered by the occasion. Mount just did what he done all season: dominated the game. With Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech all starting on the bench Chelsea are blessed with attacking talent. They should all grow and improve together.
‘Once the celebrations are over we will evolve and learn and be better,’ said Tuchel. ‘We have a lot of young players and now we have the big, big challenge of staying hungry. It’s all about the next one. I had it before when I won a trophy at a lower level, the German Cup, with Borussia Dortmund. I didn’t change a lot for me. I didn’t feel less hungry when we started out after a break at the next training session.’
In theory, Tuchel only has one more year on his contract. Maybe even Chelsea might extend that, though the last manager who won them a Champions League title was sacked by November. ‘Maybe I already have a new contract?’ smiled Tuchel. ‘Let’s check this!’
He had just come from a first meeting with owner Roman Abramovich, who was here despite his reluctance to travel to the UK at present. ‘A perfect time for a first meeting,’ said Tuchel and then reflected. ‘Or maybe the worst? Because from now it can only get worse!’
You suspect not, however. The owner has given the coach a platform on which to build. He even saw his pet project, Kai Havertz, a classic Abramovich signing come good. The only dampener on the night was the performance of Timo Werner and the inability to find a place for academy graduate Tammy Abraham even on the bench. If they can add a centre forward, the may challenge