Wout Faes was Leicester’s only outfield signing this summer, and with that shock of frizzy hair and beaming smile he is impossible to miss.
Thirty minutes with the £15 million defender fly by as he reveals his love for Harry Potter books and fishing, the comparisons with David Luiz, and why he has no fears over relegation from the Premier League.
A Belgium international, Faes (pronounced Faa-rs) is already emerging as a cult hero for Leicester’s supporters, and how the club needs one. Leicester are bottom of the table, have lost seven of their last eight league matches and manager Brendan Rodgers is under extreme pressure from fans.
This is all after a difficult summer in which Wesley Fofana was sold to Chelsea and transfer funds were limited due to concerns over potential Financial Fair Play breaches.
Faes cannot stop smiling, though, and his upbeat personality has already established him as a popular member of the squad.
“We have only played nine games so I am not afraid. It’s understandable why the fans are worried but I still believe in the quality of this team,” he says.
“I don’t want to be in the last spot either, but that’s the way it is. If we can have a streak of two or three positive results in a row we will be back among the other teams. For me to be here now is a dream. It is the league I’ve wanted to play in since I was a child.”
It has certainly been a crash course introduction to English football for Faes since his move from Reims in August. On his debut at Tottenham, Leicester conceded six goals.
His first match at the King Power Stadium was a memorable Midlands derby, with local rivals Nottingham Forest swept aside 4-0. Any momentum was quickly extinguished at Bournemouth last weekend, so Saturday’s match at home to Crystal Palace feels significant.
“Every team in the Premier League goes through a difficult period where they don’t win. Obviously that’s not nice and has to change as quickly as possible,” says Faes.
“We can’t afford to stay behind. Every game has to be at 100 per cent – you can’t afford to drop your standards for five minutes otherwise you get punished. It is up to us to fix it.”
‘I never thought: ‘I should have gone to Chelsea.’ I have no regrets’
An imposing and vocal centre-half who is comfortable playing the ball out of defence, Faes seems made-to-measure for the Premier League. He loves the physical aspect of “duels”, receiving 13 yellow cards and two reds in his first full season at Reims – though in the following campaign he picked up only two cautions.
And it is undeniable that he also stands out from the rest of Leicester’s squad due to that unique hairstyle.
“Since I was young, it has been growing,” he says, laughing. “I didn’t come out like this [at birth]. “I don’t have to do anything with it so it’s quite easy.”
Perhaps understandably, Faes finds those comparisons with former Chelsea defender David Luiz rather trite, though there is an interesting story to accompany it.
At the age of 16, he was spotted by Chelsea while playing for Belgium’s under-17s at a tournament in Scotland. As part of Chelsea’s sales pitch to try and sign him, they sent him a signed shirt from Luiz as a birthday present, but he decided to stay with Anderlecht’s famed academy.
“Maybe if I had gone there I would have got more money but that was not important,” he says. “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.”
And the Luiz comparisons, which have been inescapable since he turned professional?
“We have similar hair so maybe that is why. I can understand it because he was a very big player and he’s played for almost all of the big teams in England.
“For me, it’s important to make my own name and that is what I’m going to try and do now.”
Faes is a fascinating character, and it is easy to see why he has made such an impression at his new club.
He is currently engrossed in a book about American investor Warren Buffett and finances, and has read all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels twice: his favourite is ‘The Half-Blood Prince’.
The 24-year-old is a keen fisherman, catching pike from the lakes in Belgium while spending summer holidays with his uncle. For his initiation song in front of the squad last month, it was perhaps an unconventional choice with a rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads’ by John Denver.
He was born in the tiny Belgian town of Mol, which is also famous for Tom Boonen, the former world champion cyclist.
“To be playing in the Premier League for a small town like Mol is exceptional,” says Faes.
“When I was young and signed for Anderlecht people were like ‘wow’ but I was still young. Now I am playing at the highest level and you notice that people are proud and that’s nice.”
He credits his upbringing in Anderlecht’s academy as pivotal to his career, while his two and a half years at Reims – facing the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar at Paris St. Germain – were also an education.
Faes is now feeling settled in nearby Rutland with his wife, Linde, and joins a Belgian contingent at Leicester which includes Youri Tielemans, Timothy Castagne and Dennis Praet.
His ambition is to be involved in this year’s World Cup but, for the moment, the only focus is Leicester and their worrying position in the table. At times like this, heroes are made and he says the support of fans will be crucial.
“What they can expect from me is that I will always give 100 per cent because I think that is something fans love to see, that you’re proud to be on the pitch and want to give your all.
“I didn’t know I was the only signing [this summer] until people told me, but it’s up to me to prove that new players can bring something.
“When I heard about Leicester, straight away I said to my agent: ‘Make it happen.’ It was a no-brainer. It didn’t matter about the money or whatever, I didn’t care, I just wanted to play in the Premier League.”