N’Golo Kanté is the featured player, interviewee, and cover star of this month’s Chelsea Magazine, and in the excerpt released on the official Chelsea website, he talks a bit about what it felt like to win all those individual awards last season, the slightly new role that Conte has him playing in the 3-5-2 setup, and how he almost became an accountant before choosing football instead.
Let’s start with the latter.
"When I was 18, I got my baccalaureate [which is the French A-Level equivalent] and after that I did two more years of study in accountancy. At this time, I was at Boulogne, in the second team – the sixth, then the fifth division. I wasn’t professional, so I kept studying because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make a living as a footballer, but when I went up to the first team, I became professional, so I stopped studying."
"I got my qualification in accountancy so there are some things I can understand more easily because of it, but now I prefer to concentrate on football!"
But of course Kanté was going to be an accountant. Couldn’t really imagine him in any other non-football profession. And don’t even get him started on FFP and taxes and spreadsheets!
Fortunately for us, Kanté chose football instead. Five short years since starred for Boulogne in the 5th and 6th divisions of France, Kanté is the reigning Premier League Player of the Year and a back-to-back Champion of England, first with Leicester City and now with Chelsea. It’s remarkable rise that was even rewarded with a Ballon d’Or nomination earlier this week.
In the off-chance he wins that, or any other future individual award, he now has plenty of practice in acceptance speeches, too.
"It was a special experience [to win Player of the Year]. To add my name to the list of winners was a big honour. When you see the other winners, there are a lot of big players. I started as a boy and worked for a long time to become a professional, so to add my name to a list with those kinds of players was really, really good for me."
"To do a speech was a little bit difficult, in front of everyone – the writers, the players and to do that in English was a little bit more difficult, but I tried to choose simple words and thank everyone."
Kanté has also made his Champions League debut this season after willingly delaying it for twelve months by leaving Leicester City for Chelsea. So far so good for the Blues in Europe, with a 6-0 win over Qarabag (which didn’t need Kanté) and a 2-1 away masterclass against Atlético Madrid (which certainly did) putting Chelsea firmly in control of the group. In the game against Atlético, Kanté was asked to play a slighty different role from his usual midfield pivot, getting deployed alongside both Tiemoué Bakayoko and Cesc Fàbregas. Unsurprisingly, he adapted quite well.
"It’s my first season in the Champions League and I enjoy to play this kind of game. Against Atlético we had a really good game, we made a lot of chances, we deserved to score first, but they did, and we reacted very well to that to win the match."
"The manager changed my position. We played three midfielders and I needed to play a little bit further forward than my normal position, and I tried to traverse the attack of Atlético. It was a good game for the team."
-N'Golo Kanté; Source: Chelsea FC
Kanté and the 3-5-2 unfortunately then had a fair bit less success against Manchester City, so perhaps it’s back to the drawing board for Conte for a small tweak or two. But whatever the coach decides, Kanté is likely to be right there in the middle of things, dominating the midfield and winning things.
(As soon as he recovers from his hamstring injury...)