During the 2015 to 2016 season of the English Premier League, the unthinkable occurred. Leicester City won the championship — quite literally — against all odds. At the beginning of the season, their chances of winning were listed at 5000 to one. Leicester owes its success to one player who remodeled a crucial position: central defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

Kanté’s success shed light on the CDM position, a spot that had been played off as unimportant for years. Today, it is the significance of this single position that is changing teams’ strategies on the field and in the front office.

In the CDM position Kanté plays in the middle of the field but essentially serves as another defender who helps distribute the ball by creating attacking opportunities. Through his outstanding play, Kanté showed that if a team had a great defensive midfielder, the quality of the team could immensely improve.

The necessity of a team having a strong central defensive midfielder is a relatively new phenomenon. Before Kanté, most analysts believed that the key to winning in soccer was having a strong defense and a good offense.

Nobody cared for the central defensive midfield position. The position was essentially lost in the stat sheet; players would not score goals or get assists, so coaches overlooked its importance. However, Leicester’s coach, Claudio Ranieri, noticed Kanté’s talent and inserted him into the starting lineup. This decision worked wonders, as Kanté successfully stopped the best offenses in the world and quickly got the ball to attackers that allowed Leicester to score goals on counterattacks. Leicester went from a team who finished 14th in the league in 2015 to the outright champions in one single year.

Even with this victory, Kanté still did not get the credit he deserved. Attackers Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez received all the praise for Leicester’s unimaginable season. Kanté was viewed as a respected midfielder within the league, but was not thought to be a high-caliber player.

Another team in the Premier League, Chelsea FC, noticed that Kanté was overlooked for his efforts and decided to sign him the following season. Chelsea was coming off one of their worst seasons in recent history and realized that they needed a central defensive midfielder in order to bolster their defense and assist their offense. They signed Kanté after Leicester’s heroic season and immediately started to see results. All the areas they had struggled with during the prior season seemed to dramatically improve.

Chelsea went on to win the league the very following season, while Leicester finished 12th out of 20 teams.

Chelsea immediately winning the league and Leicester falling back down to be a mid-level team in the matter of one year demonstrated that Kanté was a revolutionary player. Teams began to realize that the central defensive midfield position needed to be incorporated into their lineups in order to see the same success that Chelsea and Leicester experienced.

Since N’Golo Kanté’s talent was acknowledged, all the big teams in the world have began to scout players in this role and pay them big money. Manchester City, one of the best English teams in recent history, signed Fernando Luiz Roza, known as Fernandinho, for the central defensive midfield position and have been absolutely unstoppable since. However, Fernandinho, just like Kanté, did not initially get the credit where it was due. The big name attackers were always considered to be the best players on the team.

This past month, Fernandinho was injured and Manchester City lost three games in the month of December during his absence. To put that in perspective, they lost only two games in the entirety of last season. As soon as Fernandinho returned in the first week of January, Manchester City has been comfortably winning games again.

It is evident that the game of soccer has immensely changed with the incorporation of the central defensive midfielder into every top team’s lineup. Fans need to appreciate this overlooked position and notice all the little things that a player like N’Golo Kanté does that no one will see on the stat sheet.

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