Christian Fuchs buys a prison

Leicester’s title- winning Austrian chats Raul, motivation­al pizza and the most exhausting game of his career he never played in

- Interview Sean Cole

You’ve joined new MLS club Charlotte FC – how did the opportunit­y arise?

I’ve been in touch with them for a couple of years and know them through Steve Walsh, who scouted me for Leicester. I know that when he’s a part of a programme, it’s bound to be good! It’s a great challenge. He told me all about their setup and what the plans are. When I visited Charlotte to finalise the deal, I saw their profession­alism – it’s a well- run club and I was impressed with the facilities.

You played alongside Raul during your first season at Schalke in 2011- 12 – what was that experience like?

He was a true gentleman. I played with him for one year, but he taught me many things.

He was very humble and such a hard- working player, even though he was nearing the end of his career. His humbleness impressed me, plus his dedication to the sport and how he approached training each day, on and off the pitch. That was a great lesson for me.

Schalke had some talented young players back then, such as Leon Goretzka, Julian Draxler and Leroy Sané. Are you surprised by what they’ve gone on to achieve?

Not at all. Draxler was playing in front of me as a winger. He was 16 or 17 but already able to decide matches. I’m not surprised by how those players evolved. Goretzka was there in my last year at Schalke. He was a rising talent and you saw right away that he had a bright

future. Sané was outstandin­g. I remember on my final day at Schalke, he was stood in an ice bath. I said, “Listen, work hard, do what the coach tells you and keep your head down, and you’ll have a brilliant career.” I was right.

How did your Leicester move come about?

It was a goal of mine to play in the Premier League and I waited for an opportunit­y. My Schalke contract ran out and Leicester soon knocked at the door. I was leaving a team where you were in the top four and played in the Champions League every year. I thought I was stepping down from the highest level, as Leicester had only just escaped relegation that season. Things turned out to be a little different! It was Nigel Pearson who’d signed me, but when I was on holiday, before I even joined the club, I was told that he was being sacked. That wasn’t a nice situation to be in – you don’t know who the next manager will be or their plans. You’ve signed a long- term deal, then everything is turned upside down.

Claudio Ranieri replaced Pearson – what were your first impression­s of him?

We were in Austria on a pre- season tour. On the first day he arrived, he literally said, “I’m only watching you. I’m not doing anything.” That was slightly bizarre. When a manager comes in, he has the chance to implement his own ideas, but Ranieri was a spectator for the first week. It was an interestin­g situation, because usually a new boss wants to step in right away. But I think what he did was good. He knew there were guys in place who were working well with assistant manager Craig Shakespear­e. He knew he could rely on those people who already knew the squad.

Ranieri had some interestin­g methods, like promising pizza if the team kept a clean sheet. What did the players make of that?

He proved there’s more to motivating players than a big contract. It was pizza! That’s what we wanted. He communicat­ed well with the players. It’s the dilly dong thing. It’s the pizza. He knew about players’ needs, which is really important. For example, I was suspended for picking up five yellow cards. I stopped Ranieri before he left the training ground and asked if it was OK to see my family in New York. He said, “You know what, have five days off. See you later.” All credit to him for being such an understand­ing human being.

What were the most significan­t factors in Leicester’s historic 2015- 16 title triumph?

The camaraderi­e and the way the club is run. That’s a massive factor with every player that joins. You think you’ve been at a club that’s run like a family, but then you go to Leicester and you’re like, ‘ Oh, wow, this is like a family!’ That all starts with the owners – Khun Vichai back then and Khun Top now. They’re always available. You can talk to them. I don’t know which other chairman would dance with you or just hug you. They were very intimate and honest. I don’t see that anywhere else. I think that’s the biggest strength that Leicester has.

When did you start to think it was possible?

Never. After the great escape, a season where you just stay up, how can you expect to go on and win the Premier League title? You always see yourself as an underdog, but I think that was the greatest weapon we had. We loved playing every game without pressure.

You recorded a famous video celebratin­g at Jamie Vardy’s house when the title win was confirmed [ after Tottenham drew 2- 2 at Chelsea]. What was that evening like?

Those were the hardest 90 minutes I never played. It was very intense. Physically, I felt like I played the game. You want Chelsea to get a result, but it’s out of your control. Being so mentally involved in the game was tiring. My video, when we’re gathering around the TV and waiting for the final whistle to blow, was crazy. That video shows 20 seconds of screaming, but it lasted for the whole night!

After six years and more than 150 games for Leicester, how did it feel to leave the club this summer?

We had 10,000 fans at my last match, which was amazing. I was so happy to share that moment and not be in an empty stadium. It was disappoint­ing to leave after a great run and six years of being attached to the club – it was sadness and happiness at the same time. But we can be really proud of what we achieved. You can only look back at the good memories, and there were so many.

You’ve previously discussed your dream of becoming an NFL kicker – is that realistic?

Yes, why not? I’ve tried out with NFL coaches and they were impressed, so there’s potential. I was up in the top 30 per cent of NFL kickers without having any specialist coaching. Right now, though, all my focus is on Charlotte and building this club up.

You’re known for having plenty of passions outside of football. What sort of things are you involved in at the moment?

Loads! About two years ago I bought a prison in New York, which has been converted into a sports complex. I have a football academy for esports players; I have my own alcoholic drinks business as well – gin, rum and vodka. That’s all under the ‘ No Fuchs Given’ brand. I feel people can identify with the brand and the message it delivers. There are some nice projects I’m doing together with my wife too, so there’s a lot going on.

 ??  ?? TEAMS
Wiener Neustadt SV Mattersbur­g Bochum Mainz ( loan) Schalke Leicester Charlotte Charlotte Independen­ce ( loan) Austria
TEAMS Wiener Neustadt SV Mattersbur­g Bochum Mainz ( loan) Schalke Leicester Charlotte Charlotte Independen­ce ( loan) Austria
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