David Beckham revealed his admiration for “special” duo N’Golo Kante and Dele Alli after they were respectively named the Professional Footballers’ Association player and young player of the year.
Both midfielders have excelled to the same extent they did during the 2015-16 season, in which Alli was also named the young player of the year and Kante was hugely influential in Leicester unexpectedly winning the Premier League title.
France’s Kante has since joined Chelsea, who are favourites to finish first this season but remain under pressure from Tottenham, where Alli is perhaps the most important player, and Beckham spoke of how impressed he is by both.
The former England captain, 41, received the PFA’s merit award for his achievements for club and country, and discussing the impression Kante had made on him he said: “He’s a special talent.
“What I like about him – actually what I love about him – (is) he plays the game in such a humble way.
“He works hard, he can pass the ball, he can tackle, he can score goals.
“To have won the Premier League the way he did last season with Leicester was special, and the position Chelsea are in at the moment – if they go on to win the title it’ll be a special couple of years for him.
“We’ll see what happens towards the end of the season, but he’s a special talent, and to be the man mountain that he is, and the size he is, says a lot about him.”
Alli is potentially even on course to become English football’s talisman, as Beckham was during his peak with Manchester United and England, and asked of the 21-year-old, he said: “Again, special player.
“We’re lucky as a nation to have young talented players coming through, and he is without doubt one of the shining lights of these young players.
“He plays the game with a certain arrogance, and it’s good to have that arrogance, because a lot of top players have that. They play in a way where you expect great things from them, and the last couple of seasons he’s produced those things.
“He’s a joy to watch. He’s a player that hopefully, if he works hard like he has been working hard, and continues to play for the manager (of Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino) that he’s played for – because I think he’s a special manager, and he’s looking after him in the right way – he’s a special player.
“I hope he continues to get better week after week, because as an England fan, we want to see these players perform the way he’s performing.”
At the awards ceremony in central London, Manchester City’s Lucy Bronze was named the women’s player of the year, and Birmingham’s Jess Carter was named the women’s young player of the year.
The retired Kelly Smith, who won the quadruple of a League Cup, FA Cup, Premier League and Uefa Cup with Arsenal in 2007, received the PFA’s special achievement award.
Kante said: “To be chosen by the players to be player of the year means a lot to me.
“It means the world to be chosen and it’s been two beautiful seasons, one with Leicester, and we are in good form with Chelsea. To be player of the year, it’s a great honour.”
On his move from Leicester to Stamford Bridge, Kante continued: “It’s a different type of playing, but with the manager, with the players, everything is easy, because we work a lot to be good in the games. It’s working very well.”
Asked about the influence of boss Antonio Conte, the former Boulogne and Caen player said: “He knows what he wants from the players.
“He wants to win, and we work very, very, very hard in training for him. He put a winning mentality into the squad, and everyone wants to give their best for the team, and to make Chelsea win titles.”
The Blues are four points clear at the top of the Premier League and Paris-born Kante added: “We have to fight for six more games.
“We’re going to fight like a final for every game, and hopefully we can win the league at the end of the season.”
Chelsea will also face Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley on May 27 and, on talk of a double, he said: “We’re going to fight for both competitions.
“The cup is just one game, and the league six games, and we’re going to give our best to win these two competitions.”
On the PFA’s contribution, the 26-year-old said: “It’s important because when we want to improve football, to concern everyone, it’s good to have unity, and to think together.”