Sometimes, when the national football players from France play against each other in the small community of Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, where they are training for the European Championship, they are allowed to divide up the teams themselves.

You do it like you used to in school sports.

There are at least two captains who are determined beforehand and then take turns choosing who they want to have in their team.

And as in school, this selection process is charged with an exciting question: Who will be elected first?

Christopher Meltzer

Sports correspondent in Munich.

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    In Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines it was supposed to be the superstar and super sprinter Kylian Mbappé, right?

    Wrong, says Didier Deschamps, the French coach.

    It's N'Golo Kanté.

    You can win with Kanté

    There are tons of modern statistics by which you can measure the skills of a football player, but almost none is as meaningful as the appreciation in your own peer group.

    In the case of N'Golo Kanté, the midfielder of Chelsea FC, this can be recognized, for example, by the selection made before the training game.

    A detail that Deschamps has just revealed in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País.

    He said something afterwards.

    Whenever he thinks about the starting line-up for a game, the first thing he does is write down Kanté's name.

    It may be unusual for a coach to highlight a player like that, but Deschamps doesn't have to worry about anything in his team, because everyone there knows: You can win with Kanté.

    However, it has been a long time before N'Golo Kante, 30 years old, was finally able to show the football world that he is a winner.

    When he was a little boy, he rummaged in the garbage cans in Rueil-Malmaison on the Parisian suburb, where he grew up with his parents, who emigrated from Mali.

    He was looking for anything he could sell to the scrap dealers.

    He got his hands dirty for money that had become even scarcer since his father died in 2002.

    He also got his feet dirty playing football, but there was no money for that.

    At the academy of the French association he was allowed to audition in a test training.

    But he was turned away.

    Apparently they did not see him as a winner.

    His dates were extraordinary

    In his football life, N'Golo Kanté has long been overlooked.

    He was lucky that there was a system in sport that he couldn't overlook: statistics.

    It is a good punchline that the rise of Kanté, for which there are no adequate statistics today, has a lot to do with statistics.

    He had played his way up from sixth to French second division when the scouts from Leicester City, a club from the rich English Premier League, looked at the data in France.

    They found a player who is only 1.68 meters tall, but who has had many more attacks and conquests than he should have.

    There were two options: either something is wrong with the data.

    Or the player was way too good for this league.

    In the summer of 2015, they convinced their club to believe in the second option and invest almost eight million.

    A year later, Leicester was champion - and Kanté was named Player of the Season.

    World champion and Champions League winner

    When Claudio Ranieri remembers N'Golo Kanté, his mind is a player who has run so much that Ranieri wondered if he was actually hiding a pack of batteries in his pants. In a text for the online portal The Player's Tribune, Ranieri, who won the championship as a coach in Leicester with Kanté, once wrote that he once forbade his model student from constantly running after the ball during a training session. "Yes, boss," Kanté is said to have replied. And when Ranieri looked at him again ten seconds later, Kanté was already running after the next ball.

    It was deserved that Kanté moved to Chelsea after his famous first Premier League season.

    It was also deserved that he became world champion and Champions League winner.

    And of course it was deserved that a wonderful saying was invented about him in England: two thirds of the earth is covered by water, the rest by N'Golo Kanté.

    A superhero who doesn't want to be

    Anyone who wants to understand the value of Kanté shouldn't pay attention to how much he runs, but when and how fast. He has an exceptional sense of timing. He knows when to attack the enemy and when to just confront him. He knows when to storm and when to hedge. He knows when his teammates need his help and when they don't. He's a bit like Batman or Superman in that regard. When his comrades are threatened with evil, he is always there at the crucial moment.

    This Tuesday (9 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the European Football Championship, on ZDF and MagentaTV), Kanté, the superhero from France who doesn't want to be one, is playing in his team's first European Championship game against Germany. He also competes against two men in Munich who know him very well. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner have been playing by his side in London for a year - and raved about the reunion.

    “You wish you had him on your team. As an offensive player you can make as many mistakes as you want, it feels like he gets every ball back, ”said Havertz. “He's a burdock. For me it is the best six in the world, ”said Werner. And even if they didn't say it that way, you could hear one thing from their descriptions of his defensive skills: N'Golo Kanté is a type of player that does not exist in the German team - and who could also be very missing in this tournament.