N’Golo Kante has returned to training in time to travel to Porto and has been discussing his energetic style, inspirations and journey from the lower leagues to the Champions League final.
The Frenchman has been one our top performers this season, but after being forced off with a hamstring problem in the first half of our Premier League win over Leicester, there have been fears he may miss this Saturday’s Champions League final.
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After returning to training yesterday and travelling to Portugal with the rest of the squad today, Thomas Tuchel will be hopeful of having Kante’s unique talents available against Manchester City, and ahead of that game our midfielder revealed his tireless way of playing has as much to do with the head as it does the legs.
‘Of course I get tired,’ he insisted, when it was put to him that he never seems to lose energy. ‘During a match, there are periods of time when you’re strong and periods of time when you’re weaker. During the weaker moments, you have to try and recover. Sometimes, you don’t recover, but it’s about game management.
‘Even if you’re tired, sometimes, you just have to go for it and make a difference going forward. In particular, sometimes, to keep the score as it is. So, sometimes you’re tired, but it’s all about mentality.
‘Over the course of the season, along with the club and the staff, you try to manage match schedules. That is, thinking about how best to train to ensure we’re ready for matches. Sometimes you have to extend recovery times to avoid injuries and be able to give your all in every match.’
Kante also spoke about the comparisons made between him and other players, with two former Chelsea midfielders standing out for him as people he looked up to as a youngster, even if he has always just tried to play his own game rather than copy others.
‘Growing up, coaches or team-mates might tell me that I resemble such-and-such a player. I was just someone who watched football. I would watch the games which interested me, without necessarily focusing on players in a similar position to me.
‘Whenever the international break came around, I would obviously watch France play, and getting to watch the likes of Claude Makelele or Lassana Diarra, I obviously drew inspiration from them.’
However, he learned from both those players later on, as an international team-mate of Diarra’s and through speaking to Makelele, who now works with Chelsea’s young players, at Cobham.
‘I met Lassana Diarra the first time I got called up to the French national team. I was lucky enough to play with him and see what a great player he was.
‘And also Claude, who is with us at Chelsea. I mainly get the instructions from my manager, to organise the team, to give our very best for the team, but it’s true that I have had some chats with Claude since I came to Chelsea.
‘He was here to give me advice on my play, and the impact I can have on the game and also on my career, on what I can work on, what I can improve, and what I can be. Being able to talk with him about that is beneficial for me because he knows the position, he knows the club, so his advice was always useful to me.’
It’s been quite some journey for Kante after starting in the lower leagues in France before rising up the pyramid and moving to the Premier League, winning the title and now reaching the Champions League final. He has also shared much of it with his former Leicester team-mate Riyad Mahrez, who is now with our final opponents Man City.
To put their rise into perspective, during the last season in which Chelsea reached a Champions League final, 2011/12, both players made their debut in the French second division, at Boulogne and Le Havre respectively.
‘I didn’t know how far I could go, I just wanted to turn pro and do my best,’ said Kante. ‘To have got where I am today with Chelsea and to be lucky enough to play in a Champions League final, bearing in mind everything that’s happened in the meantime, is amazing.
‘Of course we’ve spoken about it, I think we both realise that it’s exceptional. It’s taken a lot of work from being in Ligue 2 until now, and a lot of perseverance on the pitch and in training. So to be playing a match like this is fantastic.
‘But we both want to win, so we won’t be friendly on the pitch. I hope it works out for me, and he’s hoping it’ll work out for him!’