Last week N’Golo Kante played his 200th Chelsea game, so who better to speak to for the next edition of our 10 Questions with… feature than our midfield maestro.
Kante brought up his double century for the Blues in the superb win against Atletico Madrid. He has reached that milestone in under five years, testament to his durability and quality, and followed it up with a superb showing against Manchester United on Sunday in his 201st game for the club.
In this exclusive interview, Kante discusses his favourite memories, occasionally captaining the club, recovering from injury and relishing the limelight…
NG, congratulations on playing 200 games. Did you know the milestone was approaching?
I didn’t know! Somebody at the club told me. It was great to reach that number and I hope to continue achieving more success in the future.
Can you pick out your favourite memories in a Chelsea shirt so far?
There have been many important moments for me. My first game at Stamford Bridge with a blue shirt, my first goal, winning the title in the Premier League.
If I had to choose one, I would say the day in West Bromwich when we won the title. Even if this game I was on the bench, that moment when Michy scored…! It was a very good achievement that season with a lot of effort and good and bad moments. It was one of my favourite memories in my Chelsea career.
And your favourite goal?
Of me? My first one. It was Stamford Bridge. It was a beautiful win against Manchester United, and it was a beautiful goal. I really enjoyed it.
When have you played at your best, do you think?
With Antonio Conte in the period we won more than 10 games in a row. At this time when we were going on the pitch we were very confident, the team were playing very well, we managed to dominate our opponents and to win. I felt very good on the pitch. This was a beautiful time.
You have been our captain a number of times now. What sort of captain are you?
Everyone has his own personality, his own way to bring the best to the team. With time I am getting older, and I see many young team-mates around me. I think I can bring some experience and help my team-mates when they need it.
There are many ways to be captain. The first one I had at Chelsea was John Terry. Everyone at the club knows him as a captain, leader and legend. The club and the success of the club means a lot to him. He helped me understand what it is to be a Chelsea player, and what everything he achieved in his time here came from.
Billy Gilmour is a young player with a similar stature and position as you. Have you offered him any guidance?
We have trained together a long time now and we speak. I know what he likes, he knows what I like. I share sometimes my experience of what has happened in my national team or in previous teams. He is a good player with a good mentality. He is always ready to step up and do well, even when we call on him in training. He has good potential for now and the future, and I’m sure he will do well for Chelsea and in his career.
You barely missed a game until last season. You were never injured. More recently you have been, though, so how difficult has it been dealing with those injuries? Do you feel fully better now?
When you play constantly, many games in a row, you think it’s normal. When injury comes, you play two weeks, and then you get injured, it’s not the best. You don’t feel like you are giving the best to the club or your team-mates. You can learn from these times to appreciate more the time you are fit, when you can play and train with your team-mates.
When I have been injured it’s a period of reflection of what you can do better. I realise now it’s better to take more time to recover. I speak with the medical staff to get the best out of me for the team. This is something I have learned.
I am happy now to feel good. We have played so many games in a short time, so injury can come back, but we try to prevent more injuries. I have learned when you are not ready, take more time because that will help the team more.
You have been playing in a 'double-six role' under Thomas Tuchel. Does that suit your game?
It’s a position I have played many times, here, at Leicester and in the national team. It’s not only the best way for me to play but for the team. It is good for me to play with someone who stays when I go forward, or I stay when he goes forward.
Tuchel has revealed he tried to buy you at PSG when he was there…
I knew in the past there was some contact with Paris Saint-Germain when he was the manager, but it was not something I wanted. It did not happen because I was happy at Chelsea and I stayed here. I haven’t spoken to the manager about it!
You are a shy person off the person, never seeking attention, but as you soon as you start playing football you have great authority, sometimes in front of tens of thousands of people. How do you manage that contrast in your personality?
I have always been someone who is discreet, an introvert, but this is not something that takes away from my confidence and doing what I like.
When I play football, it’s what I like. It’s what we train for, what we think about every day. When we are on the pitch it’s a chance to do well and fight for what you want. That’s why on the pitch I like doing my best, and trying to help the team. I enjoy that.
Now we don’t hear the support of the fans or feel when they push us to do better, but the main thing is playing against 11 other men on the field and trying to win. We keep that in mind, but obviously there is a lot less passion around each game.