In an exclusive interview with our French duo, we discuss everything from making the difference on the pitch to accusations of dodgy dealing at cards and how both are viewed back in their homeland...
From dressing rooms at club and international level to board games on the team coach, there is not much N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud don’t share as long-time team-mates and close friends.
The French duo have a strong relationship on the field too, with the midfielder recently providing a perfect cross for one of the striker’s four Champions League goals in Seville. That big win a fortnight ago saw Giroud come crashing back into Frank Lampard’s attacking plans and he’s started each of the three Premier League games since, an indication of the 34-year-old’s enduring significance to the Chelsea cause.
For Kante, that was never in doubt and there are few better-placed to assess the impact of the man who now has eight goals this season for the Blues, as well as five for Les Bleus. In an interview with the pair that ranges in topic from their competitiveness at chess to on-field attributes, Kante starts by praising the professionalism and impact of his compatriot.
‘Olivier is very important to us because of his experience, his talent and the striker he is,’ our number seven begins. ‘He’s a good player and his character speaks for him. Since he came to Chelsea, we’ve won the FA Cup and Europa League, which he was top scorer in even if he didn’t play much at the beginning, and after the restart he scored many important goals.
‘He’s always working, trying to do well in training and bringing positive energy to the team, no matter his game time. He always gives his best and it’s positive for all the team to see a player like this, staying positive and giving 100 per cent in training and games.
‘We know we have a big squad and many players want to play but the manager has to make decisions. The job of everyone is to stay positive and focus on our job on the pitch.’
Giroud has similarly warm words for Kante, whom he won the World Cup alongside in 2018. The Parisian is a reserved and softly-spoken character who prefers actions to do his talking for him, and it is these characteristics that have elevated him to be held in such high esteem back home in France.
‘He is very quiet and he doesn’t really express his emotions often but the way he is playing on the pitch is his personality,’ says Giroud. ‘He is a leader by how he acts and not how he talks.
‘In France, they love him. He is the "chouchou", the favourite. Like a cult hero. He is always smiling and people love him because he is humble and simple.’
Giroud is feted in his homeland too as he closes in on legendary records for the national team. He joined the 100-cap club in October’s 7-1 hammering of Ukraine, notching two that night to take him second in the all-time goalscoring charts.
A further brace against Sweden the following month currently has him on 44 goals, seven shy of Thierry Henry’s record, and Kante believes his team-mate is now finally receiving the recognition he deserves.
‘He’s second-top goalscorer in the French national team and has more than 100 caps so that’s something to respect,’ states Kante.
‘He’s been playing for big clubs for a long time winning titles and now he’s getting closer to the record of Thierry so it’s something everyone is seeing. We have a lot of respect for what he has done for the national team.’
The two clearly get on well and have the utmost respect for one another, although one place they don’t always see eye-to-eye is over the chessboard. Kante has introduced his friend to the strategy game and, perhaps unsurprisingly given how accomplished he is at reading the moving pieces on a football field, the midfield maestro nearly always ends up as captor rather than captured.
‘It’s true he beats me at chess but he’s had more training because he started playing before me,’ Giroud offers as his excuse, with a rueful smile. ‘When I saw him playing, I said, “why not? Let’s play together”.
‘He has more experience but he’s definitely very good. Out of 10 games, he would normally beat me seven times. We play Scrabble a lot too, in French, and I beat him by far!’
However, their competitive nature can sometimes get the better of them and cross into what a referee might deem unsportsmanlike conduct.
‘It’s one of the famous things of the national team,’ adds Kante. ‘When we play against competitors at cards we always try to win. It’s true that sometimes I use some strategies but so do all my team so I am no different from all of them!’
As the French would say, il ne faut rien laisser au hasard. Nothing should be left to chance. With Kante and Giroud, luck rarely comes into it.