Arsenal manager says he watched N'Golo Kante when the midfielder was a youngster
By Mark Crellin
Last Updated: 14/02/16 7:01pm
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he has been aware of the quality of Leicester's N'Golo Kante for a long time and even went to watch the midfielder as a youngster.
However, Wenger did not sign the 24-year-old Frenchman and they will be on opposite sides in Sunday's massive Premier League showdown at the Emirates.
Having gone on a superb run towards the end of last season to power clear of the relegation zone, surprise packages Leicester have now pulled five points clear at the top of the table this season.
Arsenal have a chance to trim that deficit on Sunday but they will need to find a way to win the midfield battle against Kante, who has been to the fore all season for the Foxes.
"Kante is a huge force in their team," said Wenger. "Of course I know him.
"You look at his career and you will be amazed. Because he played in Suresnes in Paris at the age of nine, 10 years old.
"After, he went to Boulogne as an amateur. They didn't want to sign him pro.
"After, he went to Caen, and then he came finally to England. But, everywhere he has been, he has always adapted to the level where he was.
"One of my best friends in life knows him since he was 10 years old, and he spoke to me about him.
"We went to watch him and we saw he had quality, but I didn't know he would come so quickly to England."
While Wenger has long been aware of Kante, he concedes that he was not acquainted with another Leicester star, Riyad Mahrez, who was signed for a mere £400,000.
"I didn't know him," said Wenger.
"He played in the second division in France, so they did extremely well. He has developed very well and today he is one of the dominant players in the Premier League.
"You are disappointed [to miss out on signing such players], yes, but on the other hand that happens to every club and we have to accept that. Every club faces these kind of things."
Asked if Mahrez was one of the greatest bargains ever, Wenger added: "Yes, but today we live in a strange society.
"You give me that example but if I sign a player for £400,000, before he plays, people will say 'what is that? That is not serious for Arsenal'. You have to accept it.
"If you say we signed a player for £40m, they will think he is really good."