Former Chelsea star Cesc Fabregas has heaped huge praise onto his old team-mate N’Golo Kante, praising the “dark side” of his game in particular.
The pair were key players in Chelsea’s midfield when they won the Premier League title under Antonio Conte in 2016/17, with Kante named Player of the Year at the end of that campaign.
The France international has again been instrumental to Chelsea’s success, with his tireless displays in defensive midfield proving key to the club winning the Champions League in the season just gone.
Kante was man of the match in the final win over Manchester City, as well as in both legs of the semi-final victory against Real Madrid.
Fabregas, writing in his column for the Telegraph, reflected on his time playing alongside Kante, revealing that he and Eden Hazard gave him the nickname “N’Golinho”.
He also spoke about what a nice guy and shy character Kante is, though he also admitted he loves his dark side as well.
“I remember when he joined Chelsea, he was very shy, he wasn’t talking a lot. He had to move the ball a little bit quicker and always look forwards because sometimes it felt like he saw the pass forwards but he was not doing it, or at least was not taking the risk to find the little pockets where Eden, Willian or Pedro used to play,” Fabregas said.
“N’Golo was very much the style of player that Antonio Conte wanted in midfield, someone powerful who could run a lot, who was aggressive and who could make good recoveries. But under Antonio, he improved a lot going forwards and passing forwards, and that took him to another level.
“His dribbling could surprise you. He’s seen as a defensive midfielder who makes all these tackles and recoveries and it’s fantastic, but sometimes we wouldn’t see him lose the ball. He can run with the ball, break lines and dribble, and sometimes, just because it’s him, we don’t appreciate these things. So that’s maybe why we started to call him N’Golinho. He’s one of the most complete midfielders in the world, for sure.
“I remember N’Golo made an assist once for Eden at Bournemouth. He played a long ball over the top and Eden beat the keeper and scored. We used to train that a lot, a lot, a lot, nearly every day, and the day after when we were re-watching the game and analysing it, Antonio was so happy with him because it was exactly what he wanted.
“N’Golo is a quiet, shy boy, but once you get to know him you can have a lot of fun with him and he’s a very funny guy when he’s in the mood and at certain moments in training. He used to come on the back of the bus, playing games and cards or whatever it was, and have a laugh.
“Everybody knows he is a really good human being. One day, we met in the morning, we were playing at night, and everyone was ‘where’s N’Golo, where’s N’Golo, we’re starting the meeting’ and normally he was always on time. Eventually, he arrived and everyone started clapping and Antonio said ‘what’s happened?’ And he was telling us that he’s had a car crash and some people couldn’t believe it was him and they were taking pictures and he wanted to be polite. His car was all damaged and the wing mirror had to be taped back on, but he still stopped for photographs, even though it made him late!
“But N’Golo has a little dark side as well that I like, which I still see now when I watch him on television. He doesn’t lose his temper, but, If you watch, you will see that he does not mind fouling an opponent or getting a yellow card and he will not apologise or be nice to the other guy, he will just walk away. I like this and it gives a message to the opponent that N’Golo will not be too nice on the pitch. To be a really top player, you need this. If you are nice on the pitch, then they eat you alive and I smile when I see his darker side.
“We saw this season that N’Golo is a big-game player with his incredible performance in the Champions League final against Manchester City and I could always see, like all the best players, that he could raise his game to another level for the big games. This is the sign of a big player. I remember two games against Manchester United that we won, one was the FA Cup final. The same day of the final, I think it was Ramadan and it was so hot that day. We were having lunch and I asked N’Golo if he would eat and he said ‘no’ because he was fasting and I was worried he might not be able to run. But he had a fantastic game and I still don’t know how he managed to do that, with the heat. It makes me respect him even more because I wouldn’t be able to do that and he had an amazing final.