With a victory this Sunday at traditional titan Manchester United, Leicester City would clinch its first English soccer title, capping a historic run for the club and a banner year for Fuchs. With three matches remaining, Leicester has 76 points, seven ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, the only team left with a mathematical chance at the championship.
“The odds on us winning the title were 1 to 5,000 at the start of the season. It’s like the chances of finding the Loch Ness Monster,” Fuchs, 30, said this week.
Fuchs’s ride began when his contract with the German club Schalke was set to expire. He agreed to join Leicester after two phone conversations with its manager, Nigel Pearson, though Leicester had barely avoided relegation out of the Premier League the season before and was only seven years removed from the third tier of English soccer. “We talked about tactics and philosophy, and he convinced me to join the team. I really felt wanted,” Fuchs said.
Then, later that month, “I was on a holiday in Antigua, ordering a drink at a bar, my agent called me and said that Nigel had been fired.”
At first, it seemed Fuchs would be left out of plans of Pearson’s replacement, Claudio Ranieri. In Leicester’s first seven league matches, Fuchs made only two appearances for a total of 21 minutes. “It was not easy, but the coach kept telling me that I will get my chance,” he said.
When that chance arrived, the Austrian took it with both hands and became irreplaceable – a key player, both defensively on the left flank and offensively with quality passes, free kicks, corner kicks and long throw-ins. Fuchs has started 27 of 28 Premier League matches since Oct. 3, playing the full 90 minutes in 26. Fuchs’s first start coincided with an unbeaten run of eight wins and two draws that launched Leicester to the top of the standings, making it the first Premier League club to go from last place on one Christmas day to first on the next.
“They didn’t know that I am a fox,” said Fuchs, noting that his name means “fox” in German, while Leicester is nicknamed the Foxes, a coincidence neither side was aware of before the contract was signed. “The English usually confuse my name with a curse word.”
The run has made Leicester City the darling of the soccer world. It has also made Ethan, Fuchs’s 7-year-old stepson, the club’s biggest fan in the United States. “He wears Leicester shirt to school and knows more about our players than I do myself. It’s insane. He watches all of our games live, even though that means getting up pretty early.”
Fuchs met Ethan’s mother, Raluca Gold-Fuchs, a Romanian-born New Yorker, in 2012 when Schalke was on a summer exhibition tour of the United States. “After the long season it’s less about football and more about having a good time together. We went to a club, and there she was,” Fuchs said. “I had never believed in love at first sight before, but it just happened.”
They married and had a son, 1-year-old Anthony, but “Raluca runs an event business in New York, and Ethan goes to school there, and we don’t want to stop all that,” said Fuchs, who stood to benefit financially with one last contract in Europe before relocating. “She flies over to Europe every two or three weeks. I try to be in New York as often as possible.”
The whirlwind will continue for Fuchs after the Premier League season ends on May 15. In June he will captain the Austrian national team at the European championship in France. It is the first time Austria has reached the world’s second-most prestigious international tournament through qualifying. (It automatically qualified for its previous Euro appearance, in 2008, by virtue of co-hosting the event.)
“Austria are quite similar to Leicester,” Fuchs said. “We have the same philosophy, only thinking about the next game and not making bigger plans, and I really think we can have a good tournament.”
Fuchs plans to move to Manhattan permanently after his current professional obligations expire. “I promised my wife to live in the States after the 2018 World Cup, and I intend to keep my word,” he said. He has already begun to put down roots of his own, establishing the Fox Soccer Academy in Manhattan last year. He could continue to play soccer professionally, ideally in New York. But he also has a more audacious goal — to try out as an NFL place kicker.
“It’s not a joke. I am very serious about it. I know I can be a good kicker,” he said. “I’ve just had a session and made 18 out of 20 field goals. They went straight in.” He cited as inspiration Toni Fritsch, an Austrian soccer pro who became an NFL place kicker, winning the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972.
“I can play soccer for a few more years, but I want to stay in the stadium for a longer period. It will be fabulous to come onto the field in front of a huge crowd and just kick the ball. Why not extend my career until I am 45?”
If it sounds like a long shot, Fuchs has grown accustomed this year to seeing gambles pay off.
“It’s a dream that gets me inspired, and sometimes dreams come true.”