On a 90-degree summer day in New York City, the left back for the reigning Premier League champion Leicester City Football Club is standing behind a folding table high fiving kids. Though today, the Leicester City team will embark on their first informal day of training in Austria, Christian Fuchs one of the team’s star defenders (and captain of the Austrian national team) is here at the playground outside the Frederick Douglass housing project in Manhattan. Fuchs is making sure he greets every camper and signs them in for a full day of training. “After this week, it’s right back to England with the team,” he says.
Fuchs has just finished a month-long tour of duty with the Austrian national team at Euro Cup, where his team tied the eventual champion Portugal, before bowing out at the group stage. As soon as the tournament ended, Fuchs retired from international play. “It’s been an amazing honor to represent my country,” he says. “But I’m at an age now where it’s cutting into my family time too much. I’ll never get this time back with them.”
Fuchs wife, Raluca, along with his stepson Ethan and son Anthony, live here in New York City, not far from the playground where the camp is taking place. He spends his summers and any other days he can here in New York City with them. Already hoping to become part of the fabric of the community, Fuchs started the Fox Soccer Academy last year to help New York City kids learn the game the way he did in Europe. “When my son first went to a soccer program in New York,” Fuchs says, “I couldn’t believe how much it was lacking. It felt like day care. That’s not to say every child should train like a professional, but they should be learning very basic skills in a fun way.”
Which is why Fuchs is here on a sweltering week in New York City working with local kids. “We tried to find a week that wasn’t a conflict with Euro Cup or anything else,” Fuchs says. “This was the only week. Fortunately, my team and coach were very understanding.”
After the Euro Cup tournament ended, Fuchs arrived in New York City just a week before camp started, long enough to pack up his family for an impending move uptown, do a few promised interviews (including this one) and to prepare for the camp. It’s a family affair, as Fuchs’ wife Raluca helps Christian oversee the camp, tending to every detail from making sure the kids have enough water to making sure they take home a new skill every day.
It’s immediately apparent that Fuchs has invested more than just his time to ensure the camp’s success. Rather than saving money by hiring local coaches to take the kids through the various teaching stations in camp, Fuchs flew in several top coaches from Europe, including Mark Smith, who works with players entering the youth academy at Crystal Palace, and Heinz Griesmeyer, the coach who discovered Fuchs as a teenager. He even flew in Austrian freestyle soccer star Martin Schopf to teach the kids some juggling tricks and make the camp more fun.
“Christian will never cut corners with his camp,” his wife Raluca says. “He wants every part of it to be amazing for the kids. He wants to be there every minute, watching what they do and working with them. That’s why he brought all the coaches in.”
To even further spread the soccer gospel in New York, Fuchs partnered with the New York City Housing Authority to provide scholarships for eight kids living in public housing to attend the academy for free. Fuchs has spent much of his time in the camp with the kids, all of whom had never played soccer before, making them feel comfortable and confident as they learned alongside the more experienced children.
Fuchs plans to bring the camp back to New York City next summer. And when his current professional contract expires in two seasons, perhaps a permanent move to play in New York may follow. “I would love to play here,” he says. “My family is here, and I plan to live here. To play here would be a dream come true.”
If the New York soccer teams aren’t wise enough to sign Fuchs, perhaps the New York football teams will be. Recently, Fuchs kicked 9 out of 10 footballs through the goalposts from a distance nearing 60 yards. “I know it’s different when you have people running at you,” he says, “but I would welcome the challenge to play in the NFL.”
Just as he has welcomed the challenge of creating an enduring soccer learning institution here in New York City for kids. One that we hope will be here for many years to come.
For more information on the Fox Soccer Academy, visit www.foxsoccer.academy.