N’GOLO KANTE is everything the modern-day footballer is not supposed to be.
With Chelsea’s straight-laced and humble midfielder there’s no brashness, no bling, no greed.
Kante may have been a surprise choice as the players’ Player of the Year.
And while it is difficult to believe the qualities being noted by his multi-millionaire peers, the Frenchman’s no-nonsense approach to the profession naturally appeals to boss Antonio Conte, who has labelled his midfield dynamo “our silent leader”.
Kante is already a Premier League champion and now odds on to become a Double winner just 12 months later — a giant of the game at only 5ft 6in.
He looks the complete package, albeit in miniature form.
But there are two things Conte believes his modest star can still improve on — going on the attack and making a bit more noise.
Kante, 26, will shun any hero worship tonight against Southampton when it is back to business after a heady weekend of victory in the FA Cup semi-final and being voted PFA Player of the Year.
But with a number of huge characters leaving, or already gone from the Chelsea dressing room this season, Conte is looking for players to give him something to shout about.
He said: “N’Golo is young. But, for sure, when you arrive at a great team like Chelsea and it’s the first season, it’s very difficult to try and speak and lead.
“He can improve in this aspect but I think he’s a silent leader and a leader by example on the pitch.
“He’s not the type of player who likes to speak out. He’s not John Terry in terms of his personality. He’s different.
“With years, he can improve on this aspect. And also I think these two seasons, and his award, will bring a lot of confidence in himself.
“It’s important to understand that sometimes you have players with great talent to score goals — these players are important.
“If you trust in an idea of football and you trust in the team, it’s important to have a squad with good balance. With people like N’Golo, players who are very strong, who win the ball, fight and work hard for the team.
“When you try to build a team, you need a mix of talent.
“He’s working very hard and I think he’s improving a lot with these players.
“He’s a really good guy. He’s always trying to improve on his weaknesses.
“I hope he continues in this way. It’s important for him not to stop this will, desire, to continue to improve himself.
“He’s showing great ability to win the ball and also, I think, he’s improving a lot with the ball to find a forward pass and not only in a lateral way.”
It is incredible how quickly Kante has become a mainstay of the Chelsea team following his £29million move from Leicester last summer.
Hard work and improvement are like opera to hardline Italian Conte’s ears and Kante will not rest — mainly because he does not really know what to do with his time and playing football is pretty much all he does.
Earning another three points in a crunch week is his focus and the joy of reaching the FA Cup final will be erased from the memory as will the endorsement from his fellow players.
Conte is quick to stress all that matters now is a win this evening and again on Sunday at Everton to nudge closer to the title.
He added: “It’s a good season but we want it to become a great season, a fantastic season.
“To become a great or fantastic season there is only one way. This week is a crucial week for us.”
CHELSEA (likely): Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Luiz, Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso, Pedro, Costa, Hazard.