The Blues boss believes his current midfielder is superior than he was as a player in all but one aspect of his game
Antonio Conte thinks N’Golo Kante is better than he was as a player for Juventus, where he won five league titles and one Champions League trophy.
Kante is one of the front-runners for the Player of the Year awards after his form has helped lift Chelsea from their 10th-place finish last season to first place this term — since he signed for the club in the summer transfer window for £32 million from Leicester City.
The Chelsea manager is facing Manchester United on Monday in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge and admits he was only better than Kante as a goalscorer, while his midfielder is better at everything else.
“No, he’s stronger than me,” Conte said at a news conference at Cobham Training Centre. “I think I was stronger than him to score goals but, in the other aspects, there is no contest. He is stronger than me.”
“I like a lot these type of players [like Kante]. I was this type of player. And I always appreciated this type of player, with great generosity, great ability to work for the team. I think it’s important to have this type of player if we want to win.
“Not only great talent, but players who run a lot during a game. He’s an example. N’Golo is a fantastic guy, fantastic player, great commitment, great behaviour. A great example.”
Conte is known to take an interest in developing each of his players and finding specific ways to improve the games of his individuals, as a side project from his group work in the training ground. He admitted that there are areas that Kante can look to develop upon, despite his brilliant start to life at Stamford Bridge.
“My own work is always to try and improve my players, and I want to improve my players through work,” Conte added. “To work very hard to try and improve them. We are talking about great players.
“He played very well in the past, last season, with Leicester. He’s playing very well also this season with us. We are working on some aspects to try and improve him, to make him a more complete players. But we are playing about a great player already.”
“[He can improve] in the pass. I think he has a lot of room to improve in the pass, and to look for the first pass forward. He can improve on these aspects.”
Kante won London’s Player of the Year award recently and he could be in line for prestigious trophies such as the PFA Player of the Year and the FWA Player of the Year awards, after he missed out on those honors last season to Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, respectively.
Conte says he couldn’t pick his player of the season from his team just yet, but he is hoping that a Chelsea player comes out on top during the awards season.
“It’s very difficult to reply now to this question. I hope with all my heart that, at the end of the season, it will be a Chelsea player. Because it means that, probably, we have won the league.
“But in this league there are a lot of great players, and not only in Chelsea but also in the other teams. I think you must deserve this title, to be the player of the year. Above all, if you win the league.”