Speaking exclusively to RMC, Leicester City’s central midfielder N’Golo Kanté spoke about his first call up to the French national team, his best position and much more. Extracts.
N’Golo, how are things going as you discover Clairefontaine?
On my first day, I discovered the facilities at Clairefontaine, the place and the 1998 World Cup. I came across my colleagues who are good people. They welcomed me in a friendly way and made little jokes, it was a warm welcome. There were some who I had known previously as opponents with my club and those who I had never seen before except on television.
I got stuck with having to sing an initiation song but that will stay between us. I sang “Désolé” by Sexion d’Assaut. A classic.
What is your best role on the pitch?
When I play as box-to-box midfielder, that suits me well. It is the position that I play in at Leicester City and the one that I played in at Caen. It suits me.
When you look back on your trajectory, do you get the feeling that everything is going a bit too quickly?
Sometimes, I think about where I am today and I tell myself that things are coming very quickly. I have to step up and give my best each time.
Why are Leicester City still in the race for the Premier League title?
Even we are surprised about it! At the beginning of the season, we did not think that we would be in such a position. We thought just about avoiding relegation but we have also been able to keep this position as the matches kept coming. With determination and desire, we want to stay there for as long as possible. We do not know if we can stay there until the end of the season but we will fight to achieve that.
Which players inspire you?
The players that gave me thrills and the ones that I watched on video were the Brazilian Ronaldo and Maradona. There are also the fantastic journeys of the French national team in 1998, 2000 and 2006, they remain the teams and the players that thrilled us.
What would it mean to you to play for France at EURO 2016?
It is a chance to be able to play the Euros in France. Today, this is my first selection. I will do what I have always done: concentrate on this first one and give my maximum. For the Euros, the manager will make a decision. We will see what he decides.
Did you struggle to make a decision between Mali and France?
Mali contacted me and spoke with them. It was not necessarily an easy decision to make. I had to make it though and I chose the French national team vis-à-vis what it meant to me. I am happy to be here today.
When did you first receive signs of interest from the French national team?
The first interest that I was made aware of was the pre-selection that I received about ten days ago. Before that, I was not at all aware of the interest from the French national team.
How do you explain your explosion onto the English scene?
This a league that suits me and that gives me credit for what I do in terms of being more direct and more rhythmic than in Ligue 1. My team, too, has enabled me to become noticed because it defends and gives nothing up in order not to concede goals. Everyone defends and we try to have intent when we have the ball. These qualities have allowed me to become noticed [in the English scene].
What is Didier Deschamps expecting from you?
He told me to remain natural. He was watching me last season and this year. It is due to my performances that I have been selected. He knows how I play and it will do nothing for me if I change that. I must do what I am doing for my club and things will go well.
In what way do you think you have progressed this season?
Individually, I have progressed tactically. In England, it is different from Caen even if I also progressed a lot of there. There is a different tactical aspect with Ranieri. I have also become more mature and experienced. This is another league and that will help me to grow my football pallet.
What has Ranieri given me?
From a defensive aspect, he insisted on certain points about my covering and my positioning in order to better help our defenders in defensive phases. He also gave me confidence. He told us that we were a good team and that we have the capabilities to do something in the Premier League and to assure ourselves of safety from relegation quickly.
He manages the group well. As soon as safety from relegation was achieved, he told us that anything else that we achieve from that point onwards was a bonus and that we should not be scared, nor should we hesitate about the situation that we were in. We are carefree and we are having an exceptional season that we want to finish well. That is why we all defend.