The introduction below has been updated to specify the journalist who wrote the original article, and the media outlet where it first appeared. Before, it just linked back to the article via “the original article” text link.
Ed.note: Long-time WAGNH member and chelsea.pl contributor ‘essiential’ sent this one along, translating from the original article, written by journalist Michał Zachodny that first appeared on Sport.pl back in March.
N’Golo Kanté was still just on his way to winning the Premier League title and starring for France at Euro 2016, but as the article reveals, his origin story goes back much further than that, all the way to the French ninth division and a small commune called Suresnes, in the suburbs of Paris.
There we find a team called JS Suresnes, who, to this day, employ two Polish coaches, Tomasz Bzymek and Piotr Wojtyna. Bzymek is the technical director, first-team coach, and goalkeeper coach while Wojtyna is in charge of the youth and manages the U18 team (the French FA requires every club to have a youth team).
JS Suresnes have a long, 80-year history in the community; as Bzymek puts it, the club’s goal is to “bring up regular citizens”, putting the players’ education and development above any results the club may achieve. “Breaking through from our level to pro is almost impossible; like a lottery win,” adds Wojtyna.
Enter Kanté. And I’ll let the two coaches tell their story from here (editing slightly for length and adding emphasis where deemed appropriate).
Bzymek: The club is supposed to bring up regular citizens and N'Golo Kante is a normal guy.
Wojtyna: I remember his first training. It was September's recruitment, about one hundred children showed up but he stood out for me immediately. It wasn't because of some amazing skill or play. He just didn't stop running, he kept running no matter what.
Bzymek: When N'Golo was 16, Piotr asked me to take him into the first team. This is our policy, we don't make transfers, but usually we only introduce players who are 18 to the seniors. At the beginning I had to take care of him so he didn't get demolished physically in midfield, so I decided to put him on the bench. After few games he was a regular first-team player. During the trainings that were supposed to improve your football IQ and 'feeling' of the game N'Golo was able to understand and learn new things in two-three weeks time. I know there are some players not capable of learning these in their whole lifetime.
Wojtyna: When he was ten years old we saw he's not good at heading the ball and his left foot was weak. Once, before holidays, we gave him a task to improve his keepy-uppy skills. We wanted him to make fifty with each leg and head. Two months later he was able to do a hundred with his left foot, right foot and of course with his head.
Bzymek: In 2008, I was a member of the coaching team of a Paris district squad. It contained mainly PSG and Clairefontaine youth players. We won the national championship and recomended N'Golo to other coaches; we wanted him to play for Troyes or Sochaux but they replied that they already had players like him.
Wojtyna: Kanté always needed some time. Three or four weeks to get used to the team and feel comfortable. Club trials usually take about two days and the player goes home. He was always modest and quiet, never took any offense when I had to put him in the weaker teams. When he played with good players the other team wouldn't stand a chance. The balance was right with him playing against stronger opposition.
Bzymek: We were unable to find a better club for him. Only because of connections we finally made it. One member had a son playing in the first division, the other is a friend of Arsene Wenger, you know how it works. Kanté finally broke through in Boulogne. In 2011/12 season he trained with the first-team but played only in reserves. He started in the first-team when they got relegated and "France Football" picked him as the best player in the third division.
Wojtyna: For many hours we discussed why nobody wanted to give him a chance. Because he's too short? There was this time we had a visit from a famous coach from Poland and he also wasn't sure if Kanté is good enough. N'Golo is lucky that he met a lot of friendly people in Suresnes apart from Tomasz and me. We were stubborn and insisted on sending him to various clubs to make an impression and break through.
Bzymek: Even though he was the best Boulogne player he still had an amateur contract. Moreover, he also went to school during this time and even got a diploma in accountancy. After one season in third division, he had loads of offers but he was still listening only to us. He could have played for Lille, or be loaned out to Belgium but we recommended second tier Caen who in the end paid mere pennies for him.
Wojtyna: For the last five years he’s made regular jumps to a higher level and has always felt comfortable. He still has room to improve. He can attack more often, score more goals. When he was a youngster everyone looked at him when we were given a penalty and he wasn't really keen on taking them.
Bzymek: In his first season with Caen, they won the promotion to Ligue 1 and he was chosen as the best player of the team. Next season he impressed everyone. Clubs like Arsenal, Olympique Marseille or Lyon will regret dwelling too much and not buying him then.
Wojtyna: Our club is on the bottom of the football pyramid. N'Golo is a phenomenon and I don't think anyone will repeat the path he went through. His stamina is incredible. When we were conducting tests during which the player runs with an increasing tempo, he — a teenager — left the seniors far behind him. They couldn't run anymore, Kanté could run for few minutes more.
Bzymek: Now everyone wants to see him in the national team. I think Didier Deschamps will call him up so he can play in the future because he's also available to play for Mali. If I were him, I would put Kanté alongside Pogba and Matuidi. France has a big problem with the attitude of overpaid superstars. Kanté is normal, a classy boy.
Wojtyna: His friends from Caen drove their new Ferraris to the training sessions and he showed up with a backpack on a push-along scooter. When his mother saw this she told him off for it and demanded he buys himself a car. So he bought. A Renault that was already used for few years...
Bzymek: I recently spoke to his friend who still plays in Suresnes. He went to Leicester to visit N'Golo for two weeks. He told me he never got so bored in his life. After trainings Kanté just comes back home and rests. No clubbing, no party lifestyle or sightseeing.
Wojtyna: He's compared to Makélélé now. Even his Caen coach raised the questions about Makélélé's skills not being as good as our N'Golo's. He often plays one, two touches, moves the ball forward. He already did it in youth teams, it's something you are born with. One time our team won a tournament final against the Department Team, he was the best and the cup was bigger than him. Even then no one wanted him.
Bzymek: I still get emotional when he drops by and I see the same boy he was back in the day. Modest, shy, but helpful. He can stand for ninety minutes signing shirts and giving autographs in Suresnes.
Wojtyna: We had a boy who went to Paris Saint-Germain. He was even a captain in U-17 side. A little diamond, but he disappeared because he didn't have the mentality to work as hard as N'Golo. I remember the most intense trainings: 20 seconds running with the ball, 20 seconds rest. Five series, five minutes each. I remember the determination on his face when he was doing every task.
Bzymek: From his move to Caen we got 8,000 euros, after he joined Leicester — 240,000. It's our annual budget! We had to convene a committee to decide what to do with all the money. We made investments in minibuses for players and appointed better coaches. Now i hear another club is willing to pay millions for him. What are we gonna do then!?
As we know, Kanté transferred to Chelsea in the summer for around €38-40m. Wonder what JS Suresnes did with their cut of that money!
Incidentally, the club’s official (I think?) website has a video of these two coaches talking on beIN about Kanté back in 2014. I have no idea what they’re saying, but it’s nice to put faces to their names. Without them, there’d be no N’Golo Kanté at Chelsea, that’s for sure.