Live From Leicester Fuching City

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Christian Fuchs, Defender / Leicester City - The Players' Tribune

So Jamie Vardy was having a party. I’m not talking about the song. He was really having one. This was May 2, 2016, and if Tottenham Hotspur didn’t beat Chelsea, we would win the league.

Us. Little Leicester City.

All the boys wanted to be together if it happened, so Jamie invited us over to his house to watch the match.

Most of that night was a blur of emotion, but I remember one moment so clearly. I will never forget it. When I was leaving my house to go to the party, I turned to my wife in the kitchen and said.…

(I’m getting goose bumps just remembering it.)

I turned to my wife and said, “I’ll be coming home tonight as a Premier League champion.”

My prediction didn’t seem so smart for most of the night. Tottenham scored early in the match and then scored again before halftime to make it 2–0. It was hilarious, because at halftime, you had 22 lads standing around Jamie Vardy’s kitchen, with all his big candles and nice things, eating snacks and drinking, and everybody was completely depressed. Even Shinji Okazaki. And he is always smiling, even when he’s crying. Even poor Shinji was sad.

But I just had this feeling. I felt like Chelsea was going to make something happen. When the second half started, I couldn’t sit still. Over the course of a minute, I would change from sitting to standing to leaning on the bar to pacing around the house to drinking to shouting at the TV.

And repeat.

It was like this for 58 agonizing minutes.

Leicester City FC v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League

Then Gary Cahill scored for Chelsea to make it 2–1. Gary, you beautiful man.

I was screaming, “COME ON, LADS! COME ON, CHELSEA!”

I kept screaming for 20 more minutes. The boys were going crazy.

Then in the 83rd minute … Eden Hazard.

Eden Hazard: Wow. Thank you, man.

I’ve been watching football since I was six years old. I have never seen a more beautiful goal. When Hazard curled that ball into the top right corner, I couldn’t believe it. It was an impossible strike.

It hit the back of the net and … woof. Everybody went crazy. People were jumping up and down, plates of food went flying, drinks were spilled.

Now Jamie Vardy was really having a party.

(Two weeks later, when we played Chelsea in the final match of the season, I walked up to Hazard after the final whistle and said, “May I kiss your feet, sir?” He laughed.)

The last 10 minutes of the match, my heart was beating so fast. Somehow I remembered to get my phone out and record the moment, mostly so my wife and kids could see it.

When it was really over, when the whistle blew and we were Premier League Champions … wow.

Some of the boys were getting ready to go home after everything calmed down — but they couldn’t. Word had gotten out that we were having a party, and hundreds of Leicester fans had suddenly shown up outside Jamie’s house. There were all these reporters and TV trucks camped at the end of the street, broadcasting live. It was like Hollywood paparazzi. I remember staring at the TV in disbelief because the words on the screen said: LIVE FROM JAMIE VARDY’S HOUSE IN LEICESTER.

Not Manchester. Not Liverpool. Not London. Live from Leicester Fuching City.

That was the exact moment when the whole story really felt insane.

Are you kidding me? It really happened? How did we get here?

I walked up to Hazard after the final whistle and said, “May I kiss your feet, sir?”

I never expected to be a Premier League champion, especially with Leicester. As most people probably know, at the start of last season, the bookies in the U.K. had the odds of us winning the title at 5,000–1. One bookmaker put better odds on Elvis Presley being found alive. Literally.

Some people reading this, especially in America, are probably like, Who is this Christian Fuchs?

Well, I am an Austrian footballer who started playing at the age of six. Eventually I hit ground in England and became a Premier League champion. It’s as easy as that. Nothing in between.

Watford v Leicester City - Premier League

No. I’m just joking, of course.

In Austria, you don’t dream of being in the Champions League and winning a Premier League title. The money in football isn’t huge like it is abroad. You are expected to be educated. I went to school for economics until I was 21, even though I turned professional at 17. I took all the university exams, just like everybody else, and at the same time I was playing Austrian Bundesliga matches on the weekends.

This put me in some funny situations. In the 11th grade, I had just signed my first pro contract with SV Mattersburg, and of course all the teachers knew it. So on the first day of class, my very serious teacher walked over to my desk and stood over me. I looked up at him. He leaned down, and I swear to you, this is what he said.…

“I’m going to destroy you.”

I’m going to destroy you. Seriously. Welcome to Austria.

I just looked up at him like, Well, I can only laugh about you, sir.

On the pitch, it was very much the same environment. Growing up, my hero was Didi Kühbauer. He had played abroad in Spain and Germany, and he is a legend in Austria.

When I was like 10 years old, Didi and the Austrian national team played a match in my little town, Wiener Neustadt. I remember standing by this fence watching the players train, and Didi walked by. I stuck my hands through the fence. One little hand clutching the pen. The other little hand clutching the paper.

“Mr. Kühbauer, can you please sign? Please?”

He came over and gave me his autograph. That piece of paper is still hanging up in my parents house.

When I got signed by SV Mattersburg at 17, guess who I was playing with in midfield? Didi Kühbauer.

At first I was afraid to talk to him, because he’s a very strong character — a straightforward professional. All business, as you say in America.

I was young, so I was constantly making wrong decisions on the pitch, and Didi would look at me and say, “You suck.”

He was completely serious.

This one match against SV Ried, I had a really poor game. I came down the wing with the ball, and Didi was completely free on my right side. But instead of passing it to him, I decided to have a shot.

I missed the goal completely.

Didi ran back down the sideline and screamed out to the coach, “Why do we need him? Take him out!”

I was crushed. And I just reacted without thinking.

I said, “What did you say, a******?”

I said this to my bloody hero.

Didi looks back at me and shouts, “What did you say to me?”

I saw my career flash before my eyes.

I said, “Huh? What? Nothing! Nothing, sir!”

I can laugh about this now, but honestly playing with Didi was a real footballing education. It turned me into a player who could excel in Germany and England, where the pressure is immense. After I moved abroad to play in the German Bundesliga I heard through some of Didi’s friends that he had always said, “If one guy from Austria can make it, it’s Christian.”

He never told me that to my face, but I think that’s why he pushed me so hard to realize my potential. His friends told me what had impressed him, and it was not my skill.

You see, in training, Didi and the older players would tackle me hard, and I would go tumbling to the ground. I would be hurt.

I mean genuinely hurt. They were men. I was a kid.

But then I would get back up. And the next minute, they would be the ones lying on the ground.

They were impressed that I got back up and hurt them.

It might sound weird, but they saw that I didn’t fear names. I just wanted to play football, and I wasn’t going to be intimidated.

It’s the same mindset that allowed Leicester City to be Premier League champions.

People still ask me, “How did you guys win the league? How did you do it?”

There were many reasons. It was a magical season. But ultimately, we didn’t fear names. We didn’t care who you were. We weren’t afraid.

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A lot of that attitude is a credit to our manager, Claudio Ranieri. And trust me, I never expected to be saying that.

I was actually signed by Nigel Pearson, the former Leicester manager, on June 3, 2015. At the end of June, I was in Antigua on vacation with my wife and kids. I’m thinking, Ahhhh, yes, finally I get to relax. I’m sick of chasing these wingers up and down the pitch. Let’s have a nice day on the beach. Brilliant.

So, of course, right on time, my agent rang me and said, “Are you sitting or standing?”  

I said, “Well, I’m at the bar getting a drink. A nonalcoholic drink.”

“But are you sitting?”

“No, why?”

“They sacked Nigel Pearson.”

“…………………… Hmmmmm.”

In football, when a new manager comes in, you have no idea if you fit in his plans. I was in a new country with a new club that had barely survived relegation the season before, and I didn’t know who my new boss was going to be. It wasn’t a nice feeling.

“Well, I’m at the bar getting a drink. A nonalcoholic drink.”

So I went to training with the Austrian national team in July, and one morning one of my mates said, “Hey, you know it’s Ranieri.”

I said, “Huh? It’s raining?”

He said, “No, it’s Claudio Ranieri. Leicester have appointed Ranieri.”

I truly didn’t know what to think. When I was signed by Leicester, everybody at the club described it to me as a young, fun team. And now this very focused, older Italian manager was coming in.

All I knew was what I saw on TV. So the first day of training at Leicester, I’m imagining this gray-haired guy with smart glasses, no love on his face, yelling at us.

And then — what the hell? — he’s joking nonstop.

I didn’t trust it at first.

I’m thinking, Is he toying with us?

He wasn’t. Claudio had faith in us. He gave us freedom. Once the season started and we were getting results, it was nonstop banter. (At least off the pitch. On the pitch, all I can remember is 90 minutes of Danny Drinkwater shouting at us, “Talk! Talk! You’re not talking!”)

I think Claudio adapted his personality to our players. He also knew how to make fun of himself, which is a rare trait in a football manager. It was a good lesson for me. You always have a picture of a person from the TV. But you can never know for sure what they’re really like behind closed doors.

It was the same with the players. Coming into the season, I thought we would have to fight just to stay up, like everybody else.

But the first day of training, this little winger named Riyad Mahrez is giving me fits. I’m like, Come on, what is this? Lucky day, I thought.

Next training, same thing. My God, this guy is brilliant. I can honestly say that Mahrez is the toughest player I’ve ever defended. The reason is because he’s so versatile with the ball at his feet. He can go on his left, he can go on his right. Left, right, left, right again. You simply don’t know what he’s going to do, and his intelligence in space is remarkable.

I mean, listen, I’m just a humble Austrian footballer, but I’ve played in the Champions League against wingers like Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben. I feel like I know when I see a world-class player.

After the first week of training, I thought, O.K. somehow we have a world-class player in Leicester, maybe we won’t get relegated.

But then I started getting to know more players, and I saw that we had a real squad: Robert Huth, Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson, N’Golo Kanté, Jamie Vardy, and of course Mr. Leicester City, Andy King.

If you go down the line and look at every player, most of us are leftovers from bigger clubs, players that teams didn’t want anymore, or players that big clubs never wanted in the first place. All these leftovers came together and formed a team that became Premier League champions. I still have trouble believing it.

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People ask me when I knew we would win the league.

When we beat Manchester City in February? Ha. No.

When we were five points clear at the end of March? No.

I remember telling my wife when we were top of the table in April, “Yeah, right. We’re gonna win the league? Come on.”

I didn’t truly believe it until I was standing in front of Jamie Vardy’s television and saw Hazard’s strike curl into the top corner.

I came home to my wife that night and said, “I told you I was coming home a champion.”

She was so proud. Again, goose bumps. After that, it was all a blur.

The next thing I remember was walking out at the King Power Stadium for our game against Everton. The great Andrea Bocelli had been invited by Claudio as a special guest, and he serenaded us with “Nessun Dorma” before the match. The trophy was on this stage surrounded by purple and white flowers. In the middle of the aria, Andrea ripped off his sweatshirt and he was wearing a Leicester kit underneath. Like something out of the bloody WWE! It was totally surreal. I was looking around, like, Is this a dream? Did somebody put something in my water bottle?

Can you imagine what kind of party we would have if we won the Champions League? I’ve been in some loud stadiums in my career — from Schalke to Dortmund to Madrid. All of them made your ears hurt, but nothing compares to the noise at the King Power last month when the Champions League anthem finished playing and the crowd went nuts. It was really special.

Can you imagine if we won it?

Ha!

It will never happen.

There’s a better chance of Elvis being alive.

Right?

 

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