Conte praises ‘as­sas­sino’ Kante

New Straits Times - - Sport -

When An­to­nio Conte was told to stop run­ning so much in train­ing and sent to the chang­ing room by Ju­ven­tus man­ager Gio­vanni Tra­p­at­toni, it ir­ri­tated the then-midfielder.

More than two decades on, Conte daren’t do that to N’Golo Kante, the Chelsea road­run­ner who will go up against Manch­ester United in the FA Cup on Mon­day.

As far as Chelsea’s man­ager is con­cerned, he and the 25-yearold share more than sim­i­lar names.

Conte sees Kante as a bet­ter ver­sion of him­self from his play­ing ca­reer. He never stopped run­ning for Ju­ven­tus back then and nei­ther does Chelsea’s con­tender for PFA Player of the Year now. Not even at their Cob­ham train­ing ground.

“I don’t want to stop him,” Conte says.

“In my ca­reer, I re­mem­ber Tra­p­at­toni tried to stop me from run­ning dur­ing train­ing, telling me to go into the chang­ing room be­cause I had to run dur­ing the game.

“I wasn’t happy about this. I wanted to stay with my team­mates.

“N’Golo is a great player and he al­ways puts 100 per cent in the game, but also in train­ing.”

So has he tried to send Kante in­side at Cob­ham? “No, never,” Conte con­tin­ues. “I never tried to do this.

“I like this type of player a lot. I was this type of player. And I al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated this type of player, with great gen­eros­ity, great abil­ity to work for the team.”

Chelsea’s con­tracted killer on the pitch — or ‘as­sas­sino’ to his Ital­ian coach — is aim­ing to win a sec­ond suc­ces­sive ti­tle after Le­ices­ter City’s 5,000-1 tri­umph last sea­son.

Kante has helped Conte’s Chelsea go 10 points clear at the top of the Pre­mier League – and 17 ahead of Jose Mour­inho’s United.

To­mor­row, though, their fo­cus is on the FA Cup in a tie that will see Kante meet Paul Pogba in mid­field at Stam­ford Bridge.

Conte knows Pogba well, hav­ing coached him at Ju­ven­tus where they won two Serie A ti­tles to­gether. Chelsea’s man­ager has a plan in place for the £89mil­lion (RM482 mil­lion) foot­baller.

“We are talk­ing about a top, top player,” Conte said. “A top player in all sit­u­a­tions.

“We are study­ing Manch­ester United to try to find the right so­lu­tion.

Paul is a re­ally good player and we must pay great at­ten­tion to him, above all when he ar­rives in the box.

“We must think about the whole Manch­ester United team. They’re very strong.”

Kante is known as one of Chelsea’s qui­eter play­ers at Cob­ham, though he is con­stantly wear­ing a grin. So can he be called their smil­ing as­sas­sin?

“Ah, as­sas­sino,” Conte said. “No, no. It’s a good smile. Not an as­sas­sin’s smile.

“It’s the smile of a good guy, and he is a re­ally good guy.

Ac­cord­ing to Conte, though, Kante is not com­plete. He can still im­prove — a scary thought for sup­port­ers of op­pos­ing Pre­mier League clubs.

“He played very well in the past, last sea­son, with Le­ices­ter,” Conte said. “He’s play­ing very well also this sea­son with us.

“We are work­ing on some as­pects to try to im­prove him, to make him a more com­plete player.”

Fi­nally, then, one last ques­tion for Chelsea’s man­ager. If he and Kante are so sim­i­lar, are we watch­ing Conte ver­sion 2.0?

Conte laughs then says: “No. He is stronger than me. There is no con­test.”

Chelsea’s

N’Golo Kante is aim­ing to win a sec­ond suc­ces­sive ti­tle after Le­ices­ter City’s tri­umph last sea­son.

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