Leicester’s Wout Faes: ‘Chelsea called me but I never really thought to go’

Wout Faes is in full flow, his appetite for the Premier League clear as he reflects on his first few weeks at Leicester City. “For me to be here now is a dream,” he says. “Everything that I thought the Premier League would be, it is. The most-viewed, everything around it … also on the pitch, the intensity is something I quite like. They [officials] let the game play a little longer than I was used to. I like it because you can go 100% in every duel. You have to, actually, because otherwise you lose it. Every time I step on the pitch, I’m like: ‘OK, yeah, this is the real proper football.’”

Faes has quickly become a popular character in the dressing room since arriving from Reims on deadline day in September and, with an unmistakable mop of hair, something of a cult hero among supporters. Brendan Rodgers stressed that his only outfield signing this summer could not be expected to invigorate an entire squad but his initiation song, John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads at the team hotel before Leicester played Brighton certainly proved a crowd-pleaser. “Everybody knows Country Roads so they were singing along a little bit,” Faes says, tapping the table.

Faes is warm company at Leicester’s vast Seagrave training complex, as he discusses facing Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, playing alongside an 18-year-old Martin Ødegaard on loan at Heerenveen, pike fishing with his uncle in Belgium, and growing up in Mol, the town in which the cyclist Tom Boonen was born. “He is a legend,” Faes says. “It is a very small place. When I was young and signed for Anderlecht [at the age of 14] people were like ‘wow’ but I was still young. Now I am playing at the highest level you notice people are proud and that’s nice.”

Then there are those comparisons to David Luiz, another defender with a mane of natural curly hair. Faes could have followed in the Brazilian’s footsteps but turned down an offer from Chelsea in his mid-teens after being spotted playing for Belgium Under-17s at a tournament in Scotland. When Faes turned 16, Chelsea sent him a signed shirt from David Luiz. “We have similar hair so maybe that is why … since then, people who I don’t really know always ask the same questions. I can understand it because he was a very big player and he’s played for almost all of the big teams in England but for me it’s important to make my own name.”

The 24-year-old insists staying in Belgium was the right call. “They [Chelsea] called me and they wanted to have me but I never really thought to go, because I knew at Anderlecht I was [in a] very, very good [place]. Maybe if I had gone there, maybe I would have got more money but that was not important. I wanted to have the best education and I knew at Anderlecht they were really counting on me and saw me as a future talent. It was more important to stay there and progress there. I never thought: ‘I should have gone to Chelsea.’ I have no regrets to not have signed there.”

When Faes is not on the pitch or spending time with his wife, Linde, there is a good chance he will have his head buried in a book. At the moment he is reading about Warren Buffett, how the highly successful American investor managed his money – “The Wolf of Wall Street? I’m not going to be that! I don’t think so, but it’s interesting” – and has read all seven Harry Potter books. Twice. “I’m a big fan,” he says. “I love the stories so much. My favourite one was the Half-Blood Prince. I saw that Harry Potter World is near London and that is on our list to visit very soon.”

If Faes and Leicester, who have won once in nine attempts this season, are feeling the pressure before hosting Crystal Palace on Saturday, you would never know it. The defender is not fretting about Leicester’s ominous position at the bottom but acknowledges the importance of creating a winning habit. “It’s more the mental aspect that is going to make the difference. It’s about staying together, all noses in the same direction. As a sportsman, you live from winning. We are doing intense sessions in training where we play one v one to get that pride of not being passed, or the pride of scoring a goal if you’re a striker, to really get this [feeling] in our blood. We have to take that into the game.”

For Faes, it is a case of friends reunited at Leicester, with the centre-back among four Belgium internationals on the books with hopes of making Roberto Martínez’s World Cup squad. Faes attended the same school as Youri Tielemans in Anderlecht, Institute Saint Nicolas, and played alongside him after joining the Brussels club. “It is quite funny to be in the same club now a few years later. Sometimes Youri went to a higher age group but as he did, I did the same, so we didn’t play a lot of games together. We trained a lot and in daily life we saw each other almost every day.”

Faes is still unpacking after his £15m move but he and his wife have settled in the east Midlands, where he is enjoying exploring the picture-postcard countryside. “We’ve been to Oakham, which is quite nice. We live in Rutland – I think it’s the smallest county in England – and it’s cosy. When we wake up we see the fields and the sun come up; it’s like the picture of England that you have when you read books in Belgium. We are very happy to be here.”

Faes’s focus is on hoisting Leicester up the league and potentially playing for his country in Qatar. “It is the dream of every player to be there,” Faes says of the World Cup. “I’ve been in the squad the last four or five times and that gives you the taste for more. Now being in the Premier League, it’s going to help because I’m now at the highest level. The most important thing is to perform here. If they see me play I hope they will give me more chances.”

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