STOP OFF at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground any day and you will struggle to find the tiny Mini jammed in beside the Bentleys, Aston Martins and Range Rovers.
N’Golo Kante has been hugely influential for both Chelsea and Leicester
Pop into the dressing room and your eyes wouldn’t instantly be drawn to the little guy sitting quietly among the bustle of mega-rich footballing superstars.
But that little guy is N’Golo Kante, 5ft 6ins in his stockinged feet, avowed Mini driver – and the most influential figure in both last season’s title race and this one.
The French midfielder is the pocket rocket who helped push Leicester to that shock title win and is now set to do the same with the Londoners.
Kante hardly utters a word. He is the silent streetfighter who does his talking out on the pitch. And his rise from a tough upbringing in a small flat on the outskirts of Paris to one of the world’s most coveted players is remarkable.
Born in Paris to immigrant parents from Mali, the 26-year-old is now rated by none other than Chelsea legend Frank Lampard as the best midfielder in the world. His team-mate Eden Hazard, the PFA Player of the Year in 2015, says having Kante alongside him is “like playing with twins”
In just short of two seasons since arriving at Leicester, Kante has made more tackles and more interceptions in the Premier League than any other player.
Yet Leicester’s title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri took a lot of convincing that the diminutive destroyer could stand up to the rigours of the Premier League.
But Foxes starfinder Steve Walsh was sure, and every time he passed Ranieri in the King Power Stadium corridors he whispered ‘Kante, Kante’ in his ear.
Leicester took a punt, paid French Ligue 1 club Caen £5.6m for him, watched him become the bedrock of their championship campaign, and then sold him for £32m to Chelsea in the summer.
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was at Leicester when Kante arrived and says the players couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
N’Golo Kante celebrates winning the Premier League title with Leicester
“His energy is second to none. From the very start, players were scratching their heads and asking how he does it,” said Schwarzer.
“His positional sense was incredible. He was so unbelievably quiet but he read the game so well it was like you were being ambushed.”
Watford striker Troy Deeney recalled his battles with him last season, and admitted: “Whenever we broke on them, I always had the fear factor that Kante was coming back and I knew we didn’t have much time before he got there.
“Even if I actually did have time, I always thought he might be there, so I would rush things a bit.”
Brentford defender Maxime Colin was a team-mate of Kante at Boulogne and revealed: “One day we did a running test. You needed to run at your maximum and it was him who killed the test. He just kept running after everyone else had stopped, going round the track.
N’Golo Kante is a vital cog in Chelsea’s engine room
“Month after month, people started to see that N’Golo was a really good player. I remember seeing him going to the supermarket in France with his little bag and his push scooter – he wants to do everything himself.
“Boulogne was very hilly but he would turn up to training on his scooter. If you offer him a lift, most of the time he says, ‘No, I will go by myself’.
“That’s why he is so strong mentally, he came from really low and did all this by himself.”
That physical strength matched with such determination is what makes Kante such a formidable opponent.