Antonio Conte said he was proud of Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante after he was voted the world’s eighth best player at the Ballon d’Or, adding that he believed Eden Hazard could one day be in contention for the prize.
On Thursday, Kante was recognised for an outstanding year that saw him win the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year awards for his role in Chelsea’s Premier League title.
Kante was voted the world’s second-best central midfielder, behind Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, and Conte told a news conference ahead of his side’s game against West Ham: “To finish eighth in the Ballon d’Or table for a player like Kante, with his type of characteristics, it’s not simple, it’s not easy.
“To finish eighth for N’Golo is a great result. I’m proud for him. All the people understood the capacity of this player. He’s a fantastic player. For me, in his role he’s one of the best in the world.”
Hazard finished 19th, and asked whether the Belgium international could scale greater heights, Conte said: “If you want to win the Ballon d’Or, you have to win the league, the Champions League, the World Cup. It’s important to have great wins.
“For sure, Eden is a young player. He has the potential to improve his place in this table. At the same time, I like to repeat that if you want to reach the best you have to win.”
Conte takes Chelsea to the London Stadium to face struggling West Ham on Saturday, and the manager said: “I must be honest, I think West Ham have a lot of good players with great talent.
“This is a very physical team. It’s a bit strange to see them [low] in the table. For sure they have the potential to do better — I hope not in our game tomorrow, but after.”
David Luiz remains sidelined with inflammation in his right knee and is being treated “day to day,” while Danny Drinkwater is out after missing three days of training with fever.
Chelsea could make up ground on either Manchester City or Manchester United, with the Premier League’s top two facing each other at Old Trafford on Sunday.
But Conte said: “The best result is to win against West Ham and then anything can happen in the Manchester derby.
“It’s not important if I’m supporting Manchester United or Manchester City. I support Chelsea.”