It is hard to believe now, but N’Golo Kante was once not wanted and not good enough.
Typically, that was the self-assessment of the humble, reluctant hero now helping power Chelsea towards glory and heading for a piece of Premier League history.
Six more wins will guarantee Chelsea the title and Kante, 26, a place in the record books as the first outfield player to win back-to-back Premier League’s with two different clubs.
It is a potential success Kante could never have imagined just two years ago when he was at French strugglers Caen, never mind during his teens.
“When I was young, between 13 to 18, I tried to get into professional academies like Rennes, Lorient, Sochaux maybe four or five different ones,” he said.
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“But it wasn’t a success because they said things like ‘we have more players like you in our teams and we didn’t need you.’
“So I kept working in my local team Suresnes, a little team in a suburb of Paris.
“I didn’t get much explanation why they didn’t take me in their teams but for me the main reason was maybe just that I wasn’t good enough. There were some players better than me or as good as me.”
There will now be regret at those clubs about the one that got away.
There certainly is at Arsenal and Manchester United , two of the clubs who lost out to Chelsea in the battle to sign Kante from Leicester last summer.
Those knock backs in his younger days, though, did help shape the Blues’ midfield sensation.
Kante said: “Because I played in the lower divisions in France, to have the chance to train with players from academies made me think ‘ok, I need to keep learning, working and improving’ because there were some players that play very well, were very strong had good vision, technique and some other things.
“That is what I did when I missed this chance to go in the academies.”
Kante’s efforts as he climbed the French system, progressing through the lower leagues with Boulogne and Caen to Ligue 1, have paid off.
He has been one of the Premier League’s star players since his £5.6million arrival at Leicester in 2015 and is favourite to be crowned player of the year.
The Frenchman’s incredible lung-bursting displays, full of relentless energy and perfectly-timed tackles, have even seen teammate Eden Hazard joke that playing with him was like having Kante twins in the Chelsea side.
The man himself says: “People say ‘look at his energy, look at his tackling’ but I always wanted to give the best for the team and if I need to run until the end I will try to.
“There is always a chance to play, be healthy and with no problems. Football is something I like so when I have this chance to play I like to give my best.”
In fact, try to praise him and Kante will do what he does so brilliantly on the pitch – intercept and pass it onto his team mates.
He said: “Last season we were champions with Leicester and at the moment we are top of the league with Chelsea.
“That’s why people put it on me but it is not me. I have been in two good teams.
“I am not one of the best midfielders in the world or something like that. I play with some talented players like Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Nathaniel Chalobah. They have different styles and I can learn from everyone.
“I need to keep improving tactically, defensively and offensively for the last pass, the last shot.”
That humility is typical of down-to-earth Kante, who arrived on his own for this interview, minus the usual footballer’s entourage, still driving a Mini rather than super car.
“I was always this kind of person,” he said. “Not one to shout everywhere. It is my personality.”
The record books will do Kante’s shouting for him if he and Chelsea clinch the title.
But he said: “I can’t imagine I have won the league yet, I just want to do it as quickly as I can.
“It is most important to do it than imagine I will be the first and we have to do it together. This is the most important thing.”
N’Golo Kante was speaking at Woodroffes Solicitors, London, after becoming an ambassador for Foundation Arthritis.
The charity spend €1m on research projects every year in their bid to find a cure for the disease which they hope to by 2020.
Kante said: “A few months ago I was made aware about the charity and I didn’t know about this disease.
“I learned some people suffer badly with it and it touches some sports people after their careers.
“That is why I wanted to be involved in this cause and help with the research.”
For more information visit www.fondation-arthritis.org/ .