CHRISTIAN FUCHS still pinches himself when he thinks about Leicester winning the Premier League, and believes the club’s faith in young English talent means more good times are around the corner.
The Foxes stormed to the title in 2016, leaving Arsenal ten points behind in second place and Tottenham, their long-time challengers, a point further adrift. The big guns of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea were nowhere in sight.
The defence of the championship did not go well, however, with N’Golo Kante sold to Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri sacked as they struggled at the wrong end of the table. Leicester rallied to finish 12th and last season, after another mid-campaign change of manager from Craig Shakespeare to Claude Puel, ended up ninth.
The Foxes, though, are investing in young talent and it is paying off handsomely, with three players drafted into England’s squad for Tuesday’s King Power Stadium friendly against Switzerland.
Ben Chilwell made his debut as a substitute, playing alongside club-mate and World Cup hero Harry Maguire, while forward Demarai Gray was on the bench.
Midfielder James Maddison has been tipped to join them in the national set-up if he continues his impressive form since signing from Norwich in the summer.
Fuchs moved to Leicester from Schalke in 2015 and immediately became a key member of the title-winning defence which conceded just 36 goals.
The 32-year-old Austrian has seen his first-team opportunities limited by the form of Chilwell this season but remains an influential senior member of the squad, and an important reminder of just what a relatively modest club — 5,000/1 to win the 2016 title remember — can achieve.
‘I am asked about winning the league all the time and, yes, I still have to pinch myself but it was a wonderful achievement,’ Fuchs told Metro. Leicester visit Bournemouth tomorrow in eighth place with two wins from four matches.
The defeats were close calls away to Manchester United and at home to Liverpool, and the Foxes acquitted themselves well on both occasions.
It leaves Fuchs certain the good times can return in his final season at the club before he relocates to America, where his wife and three children already live.
‘We can definitely finish in the top half this season and European football is a target,’ he said.
‘The lads who were in the England squad are all talented young players, in their early 20s and have bright futures. England are a top footballing nation and you must have the right skill and ability to be selected.
‘The fact that Ben made his debut and played well alongside Harry, and Demarai was in the squad, reflects well on both them and the club.
‘They have the talent to excel and get better and better, and that is because they have the right attitude. If you want to make it, you have to work hard and show the right commitment. You’re not going to make it if you are always thinking about partying and you are not putting in the right effort.
‘Their success shows the club is moving in the right direction, giving young players opportunities to play at the highest level and the chance to flourish and they are making the most of it.’
Fuchs is particularly impressed with the way Maguire has emerged as one of the most powerful defenders in Europe and believes the 25-year-old, a summer target for Manchester United, can develop into one of the very best defenders in the business.
The £17million capture from Hull last year has just signed a new five-year contract with the Foxes and Fuchs said: ‘He is a very impressive player and he is only going to get better. Harry has a very good eye for building play from the back, he defends well and he scores goals.
‘I’m sure he will be playing for England for a long time to come. Signing a long-term contract shows his commitment to the club and it also shows Leicester are able to keep hold of their young players.’
While the youngsters are making admirable progress on the international stage, Foxes frontman Jamie Vardy has called time on his England career. It is a decision Fuchs understands, saying: ‘Jamie is really valuable to us and this will help to keep him fresh while he will be able to spend more time with his family.
‘I made a similar decision when I stopped playing for Austria [in 2016] — there will definitely be a lot more banter now in training during the international breaks!’
Fuchs is no stranger to the lighter side of the game, with the defender famous for his YouTube challenges and ‘No Fuchs Given’ motto.
The latter has even spawned a clothing range and the brand has led to Fuchs’ involvement in this month’s Freestyle Football World Championships in London, where 16 players will display their amazing tricks and juggling abilities.
So, how would Fuchs fare? ‘Don’t underestimate me because I am a defender,’ he laughed.
‘I may not be in the top 16 but I can certainly do some different things with a football.’
Fuchs has never been your average footballer and, while he is nowhere near calling time on his club career, one job could tempt him when he moves to New York — kicker in the NFL. ‘Who would I like to kick for? Well, New York is blue, it has to be the Giants.’
■ The UK Freestyle Football Championships hosted by five-time winner Andrew Henderson in association with #NoFuchsGiven and Joe.co.uk take place at York Hall, Bethnal Green, London on September 23. For tickets, visit official partner nofuchsgiven.com