N’Golo Kante has won the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award for 2016-17.The Chelsea midfielder, 26, beat Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez in the vote by his fellow players.
Tottenham’s Dele Alli won the young player prize for the second successive year. Manchester City’s Lucy Bronze won the Women’s Player of the Year award.
Birmingham’s Jess Carter was named Women’s Young Player of the Year.
Kante said: “It’s a huge honour to be chosen by the other players. It’s the biggest honour to get this award.”
The midfielder is on course to win the Premier League with Chelsea, having done so last season at Leicester, and added: “My first two seasons were very beautiful. Last season was very beautiful. This season so far, we have had a good season but we have to finish well.”
Former England captain David Beckham received the PFA’s Merit award for his contribution to the game during the ceremony at the Grosvenor Hotel in London on Sunday.
Former England women’s captain Kelly Smith – who became England’s first female professional footballer when she joined American side New Jersey in 1999 – landed the PFA Special Achievement award.
The league’s ‘most complete midfielder’
Kante was key to Leicester’s surprise Premier League win last year and could become first player to achieve the distinction of winning successive titles with different clubs if Chelsea can stay ahead of Spurs in this season’s race.
Since signing Kante in July, Chelsea have gone from a mid-table finish to the top of the pile with six games to play.
In his absence, Leicester have largely struggled to replicate their heroics of last season and are still not safe from relegation.
France international Kante has played every minute in the league this season apart from the Boxing Day game against Bournemouth, when he was suspended, and the final 11 minutes against Tottenham on 4 January.
|N’Golo Kante – 2016-17 Premier League season|
|Appearances: 31||Duels (won): 342 (174)|
|Goals: 1||Interceptions: 72|
|Assists: 1||Clearances: 40|
|Passes (successful): 1,899 (88.78%)||Blocks: 4|
|Tackles: 110||Dribbles (successful): 47 (68.09%)|
BBC pundit Danny Murphy, speaking on Match of the Day 2 on Sunday, described Kante as irreplaceable in the Chelsea line-up.
Former England midfielder Murphy said: “He’s the one you can’t replace. If Eden Hazard wasn’t there, you could put Willian in. Kante is the best midfielder in the Premier League, if not Europe.”
Matthew Upson, the former England defender, added on the same programme: “It’s 100% deserved. He is the most valuable player in the Premier League with his contribution.
“He might not be the most creative player, or have the biggest sudden impact, but over the course of the season he is the most valuable player in the Premier League. He’s been outstanding.”
Speaking earlier this season, BBC pundit Phil Neville described Kante as “the one who has knitted this Chelsea team together”.
“I thought he was a number six like former Chelsea player Claude Makelele. But he is a number six, an eight and a 10 – he plays absolutely everywhere, three different positions,” he said.
“I think Kante is the most complete midfielder in the Premier League at the moment.
“He will redefine what we are looking for from a midfield player.”
Kante has ‘fear factor’
Kante is famously a quiet man, yet on the pitch he is a tigerish opponent.
His total of 110 tackles in the Premier League this season is second only to Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye (127), while his figure of 72 interceptions is eclipsed only by Ander Herrera of Manchester United.
Watford captain Troy Deeney recently spoke about what it is like to play against Kante – an insight that perhaps explains why his peers voted him the best of their number.
“Whenever we broke on them last season, I always had the fear factor that Kante was coming back and I knew we didn’t have much time before he got there,” Deeney said.
“Even if I actually did have time, I always thought he might be there, so I would rush things a bit.”
|All about Kante|
|Height: 5ft 6½in|
|Club career: Boulogne (2011-13), Caen (2013-15), Leicester (2015-16), Chelsea (2016-)|
|Honours: 2015-16 Premier League title|
Kante only third pick among BBC Sport readers
Kante might be top of the class among his fellow professionals, but he did not quite come out on top among BBC Sport readers, who were recently asked to name their Premier League team of the year.
More than 40,000 teams were selected, with the most popular XI displayed below.
Kante was named in more than 80% of users’ teams, but his exploits in the middle of the park for the Premier League leaders were not enough to make him the most selected player overall.
That accolade instead went to Spurs midfielder Alli, followed by Chelsea midfielder Hazard and then Kante.
Two of the nominees for the senior PFA award failed to make the BBC Sport team of the year, with Arsenal forward Sanchez and Manchester United striker Ibrahimovic missing out.