Chelsea star N’Golo Kante decided he wanted to represent Mali at international level last season, according to former Leicester assistant boss Steve Walsh.
Kante has racked up 13 caps for France since his Les Bleus debut less than a year ago but there was a stage during the Foxes’ title-winning season when he questioned whether he’d get into Didier Deschamps’ team.
His doubts were so great that he told Walsh he wanted to play for Mali – despite France’s far greater potential to challenge for major honours.
“I want to play for Mali, my parents are from Mali,” Kante said to Walsh, according to The Sunday Times.
When Walsh, now the director of football at Everton, told Kante he should represent France at international level, the midfielder responded by asking whether he was good enough.
“You’ll get in any team, mate,” responded Walsh. “If we had a World XI, you’d be in it.”
Kante has helped to transform Chelsea’s fortunes this season, with the Blues sitting pretty 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
He is a shoe-in to be included in the France squad for their games against Luxembourg and Spain later this month.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte hailed the midfielder ahead of Monday night’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.
“He’s been a great example. I was like him as a player,” Conte said.
“But he is stronger than I was. I scored more goals but in other aspects there is no contest.
“As a manager I’ve always appreciated this type of player – someone who has great generosity, an ability to work for the team.
“If we want to win it’s important to have this quality.”
Antonio Conte jokes about Kante needing to improve