N’Golo Kante discusses the work he does behind the scenes, his concentration on the pitch and the differences for him between this season and last…
If Chelsea supporters were asked to vote for their Player of the Year right now, they would likely have to think long and hard about it, so good have performances across the board been this season.
One man who would surely be under consideration for the prestigious award is N’Golo Kante, a consistently colossal force in the Blues midfield, and sometimes in defence and attack, too.
The Frenchman’s agility and pace enables him to cover ground at speed. His tenacity and timing ensures he is as good a tackler as any in the game. His touch and vision makes him a fine distributor of the ball. And all of these qualities place him very highly indeed in the rankings for interceptions and ball recoveries.
What does he do to help himself stay so fit and so focused, we wonder as we sit down with the understated 25-year-old at Cobham. He has missed just one league game because of injury in the past four-and-a-half seasons.
“I think there are some things you can control and some other things you can’t,’ Kante points out.
“Me, I just try to work on my ‘invisible training’, as we call it in French – things away from the pitch and the training ground. I try to sleep very well, to eat very well and to do the best for my health and my body.
“Sometimes you are more tired, but this is football. We play often, we sometimes have three games a week, and you have to manage your fitness well.
“Then before the game I try to think about my job,’ he adds. ‘And when I am on the pitch I want to do the best I am able to.
“I don’t think about other things, the crowd, the referee, the other players. I am just focused on what I have to do. There are some who don’t get the chance to play and I know that.’
Kante is quick to rebuke any comparisons with players in his mould, including Claude Makelele who he admits he rarely saw play. In fact, growing up, the position of defensive midfielder did not interest him; he wanted to be like Diego Maradona or the Brazilian Ronaldo. It’s unlikely either would have turned their nose up at the dribbling and finishing on display for his solitary Chelsea goal to date, against Manchester United earlier this season.
Frankly, though, finding the net isn’t Kante’s priority right now; that’s helping the Blues maintain our advantage atop the Premier League.
He already has experience of playing for a team leading from the front and going on to win the title, but comparing Leicester’s situation a year ago with ours right now doesn’t yield many similarities.
“It’s totally different. Last season, we were top at this stage, but we didn’t expect to be there. We just wanted to keep our position for the longest possible time. We did not know if we were going to do it because there were a lot of teams behind us.
“Here at Chelsea it’s different. It’s a club of champions. We want to win everything and always be at the top. It’s nothing special, we just try to win every game.
“At Chelsea I think about 80 or 90 per cent of the team have won something, either at Chelsea or elsewhere. You can see people are not getting carried away because nothing is done yet.”
By Rupert Cane