CHENNAI: One of the biggest names in world football right now is N’golo Kante. The Frenchman made all the right choices and the right noises. After winning the Premier League with Leicester, he completed the same feat with Chelsea.
But this season has been a series of ups and downs for the Blues. Losing a manager like Frank Lampard, rebuilding a team under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea are struggling to finish in the top four. Excerpts from the interview:
How difficult is the season after you’ve become a Premier League champion?
I think it’s difficult to explain because when you’re champion you enjoy the rewards of winning the premier league for one season. But when we go for another season we try to find the same focus and determination but for some reason we cannot explain … (can’t hear this on my recording – sorry). It’s difficult to explain because even after losing the premier league so close the season before and winning the champions league they had this thing – the focus but it’s difficult to explain why this has happened to them but for sure they have good players and a quality squad.
Recently made your 200th appearance for Chelsea – How proud to reach that milestone and what you’ve achieved in your time at Stamford Bridge?
For sure it’s something that I’m proud of – to play 200 games for Chelsea. I still remember when I came here with some expectations but the trust of the club, the old manager Antonio Conte and the sporting director Michael Emanalo. They had trust in me and it’s now been nearly 5 years that I’ve been here and I hope that we can achieve a lot of good things in the future.
You’ve played for a lot of managers. How has Thomas Tuchel had such a big impact so quickly?
For sure he’s had a big impact for us. We are challenging for the top four and we won the first champions league game. We have the work of Frank Lampard from the last year and a half but he’s doing very well – the team adapted well under him and I hope we can keep going because it’s only been one month. I hope we can achieve some good things at the end of the season. We’re in three competitions and if we can win one or two titles then it’ll be very good.
Is there anything the manager does that’s different from everyone else?
He’s really demanding sometimes – he asks us to play in a certain way. There are many ways to do things and managers always insist on little details but I can’t say he does something more than another manager. But he’s really demanding in general.
Have you seen Timo’s confidence and contributions improve in recent weeks?
Obviously he can speak the same language but in general with Timo, no. He trains and plays the same way. He had some … Like to score a goal or something. But we all play with the same desire as before.
How pleased were you for him and everyone when he scored against Newcastle to end his difficult run?
Me especially, I was not looking at it like he hadn’t scored. I still thought he’d played well. Obviously, as a striker or an attacking player it’s important for him to score. We were happy for him but I was not waiting like (checks translation) it was an obligation – he was playing his best for the team and we were happy for him.
How talented is Kai Havertz?
He has good talent he’s good with the ball, he’s calm, he has the ability to make good, last decisions in the opponent’s half and around the box. He’s a reliable player he can turn and use his speed and technique. It’s good to have him. He’s young and was a bit injured recently but it’s good to have him in the squad.
Not had much luck so far. How has he coped mentally with the pressure of his price tag, the injuries he’s picked up and being struck down with Covid?
He always stayed positive and worked with a good mentality and work ethic. Sometimes he’s played and sometimes he hasn’t – obviously this is the decision of the manager. But in general, we are all positive and when we’re on the pitch we try our best. When he’s training, he’s doing his best and is always ready. I’m sure he’ll do well in the future.
How confident are you that the manager can get the very best out of Werner and Havertz?
As a player I see them as team-mates. I’m not especially focused on kai and timo but the manager is really demanding of everyone in every position and I’m sure when they have the time to play they’ll do what the manager asks and do their best.
You’ve spoken in the past about having to overcome a lot of difficulties as a child and then as a young player. If you were approached by a 12, 15 or 17—year old Kante for advice. What would you say?
It’s an important thing. If you’re at Chelsea or another team, you have the ability to play at this level so if things are not going how you want or you think you can do better, work really hard. Work harder. Try your best and listen to the advice of the manager and experienced players and think about what you can do better. That is a way to do better and to give your best and then you don’t have regrets at the end.