N’Golo Kante has always had a plan for his career and will join “a very, very big European club” if he leaves Chelsea, his former coach at Caen.
Chelsea paid around £30 million to sign Kante from Premier League champions Leicester City in the summer, capitalising on a release clause included in the Frenchman’s contract when he moved to the King Power Stadium from Caen for £5.6m just 12 months earlier.
Kante will face Leicester for the first time since the move at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, adding another chapter to a remarkable story that has seen him rise from the French third division to one of European football’s biggest clubs in just three years.
And Patrice Garande, the Caen manager who signed Kante from National side Boulogne in 2013, believes his former player could scale even greater heights.
“I think from the moment N’Golo came to us in Ligue 2 he had a career plan but without trying to go too quickly,” Garande said. “He had his feet on the ground, and that is why he did two seasons with us, and then left. It’s he who decides.
“I thought [Leicester City] was a good choice and one that suited him, because in his mind going to England in a club like that was a step towards going even higher. He has had a rapid rise, but it has been progressive.
“He was in Ligue 2, then Ligue 1. He goes to England with Leicester, they win the Premier League. Then he goes to Chelsea, and after that he’ll go to a very, very big European club, that’s for sure.
“When he wanted to leave Leicester, there were a lot of clubs who wanted him, and it was he who decided to go to Chelsea. He’s not someone on whom you can impose a decision … you can’t really influence him. He listens, but it’s always him who makes the decisions.”
Garande also revealed that Kante — who broke into the France squad in time for Euro 2016 and impressed as Didier Deschamps’ men reached the final on home turf — turned down an approach to represent Mali at international level during his two-year spell at Caen.
“I had talked to him at that time, because he hadn’t chosen to play for France,” Garande said. “He could also have played for Mali. They wanted him to, he didn’t. I often talked to him about the French national team, telling him: ‘There isn’t a player like you, with your profile in midfield’.
“I always thought he would be an international. He has an incredible ability. He came into Ligue 2, he observed, and got up to that level. He came into Ligue 1, he observed, and he got up to that level, and was very good. When he went to England, at first he played 20 minutes, then a half, then a bit more. After that, he was never out of the [Leicester City] team.
“He played for France in a position that isn’t his [at Euro 2016], in front of the back four, and he was brilliant. He has incredible potential and he’s also a very intelligent boy who has his feet on the ground, who takes things step-by-step. He analyses everything that goes on around him.”