Antonio Conte is adamant Chelsea did “great business” signing midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante last summer, but he’s still not sure why the player decided to leave Leicester City.

The tireless 25-year-old had every chance to remain with the Foxes after helping them to a historic Premier League title in May. There were fresh terms and higher wages on the table – more than £100,000 a week – and Champions League football was on the horizon.

But he instead chose Chelsea, a team that bottomed out last season and is now in transition. Conte is happy Kante made this decision, even though he can’t explain it.

“N’Golo is an important player for the present and the future for Chelsea. I repeat: We did great business to take him,” the Italian boss told reporters ahead of Leicester’s visit to Stamford Bridge. “I don’t know (why he chose to move). You must ask him. But I hope it was after my conversation, yes. He looked at both situations and took the best choice for him and his family.”

In fact, Kante revealed upon sealing the £32-million transfer that Conte’s speech was what convinced him of Chelsea’s project. Whatever the Italian said, the France international clearly listened.

Conte’s admiration for the player is clear. He doesn’t care that he’s 5-foot-5. What stands out is Kante’s hustle, and his desire to reach every ball. He provides a protective shield in front of the defence, and gives the manager the option to play multiple formations.

“He has brought good stamina, good personality, good quality. He covers such a lot of ground, and this is very important for the balance when you play offensive football, just as it is to have a player who recovers the ball very well, winning it back,” said Conte, who could be describing his former self as a player for Juventus. “N’Golo is this type of player, the type who puts the team before himself, and I like that quality a lot.”

Related: 5 matches you have to watch around Europe this weekend

It’s why a particular scene in Chelsea’s baffling 3-0 loss to Arsenal was so surprising. Kante lost the ball in midfield, and simply watched as the Gunners – and even referee Michael Oliver – sprinted ahead of him for the third goal.

Of course, it’s a rare sight indeed. Joining Chelsea has required a subtle adjustment: No longer is he absorbing all the pressure as he did at Leicester in a counterattacking system. That required running and tackling of the highest order, something he does so well.

Here it’s the complete opposite: Chelsea is in the Premier League’s top four in possession.

“He’s brave. He’s not tall, but for me he has great qualities. It’s good he puts his quality into the team,” added Conte.

“It’s logical that, during the game, a player makes mistakes. But when you look at N’Golo, you can see the whole quality of this player, what he brings.

“For me, he’s a very good player.”

Menu