In Premier League football there's a moment when a young player becomes of age and announces himself to the world. Of course, we as fans see this breakthrough as the first step, but for the player it's over a decade in the making. Having started four of Leicester's first five games of the 2019/20 season, that moment has come for Hamza Choudhury, whether he's aware of it yet or not.

Footballers in this day and age have their every move followed and analysed, from the pitch to the streets to their holidays. For many, the comfort of their own homes is their safe haven, quite understandably. So when we were setting up this feature with Choudhury we sent him a list of possible locations to meet up for a chat, but he pinged back telling us to come round to his after training, and that's how we found ourselves sat in his lounge while he played some piano for us. 

Once in the company of the Leicester and England U21 midfielder it doesn't take long for us to realise why that invite was perfectly normal to him. Choudhury is as chilled as they come, there's no entourage, no dramas, no time limits, just him and his laid-back attitude. His home is as leafy and impressive as you'd expect from a Premier League footballer, and while he may only be 21 years old his warm and welcoming presence says a lot about his family-focused lifestyle. You can sense that his house, however big or small, would always be his family's too.

On the pitch and Choudhury has already forced his way into the first team set up at Leicester City. His tough-tackling, dynamic, and tactically disciplined displays have resonated well with the King Power faithful. His trademark hair makes him the most recognised player on any pitch, he's unmissable. Have a bad game and he stands out, have a good game and he stands out. The only thing with more volume than his hair right now, is the noise he's making in the Premier League, and while he's set for an exciting season with the Foxes we begin by bringing things back to the start.


Hamza, can you tell us about your football upbringing and how you fell in love with the game?

When I was a young kid it was just anything, any sports, anything that I could burn a bit of energy off I used to go out and do. I think my mum took me to an open day at Loughborough University and then from there I went to play for Loughborough for a year. I think I was quite a big kid to be honest, so I played a year up, and then from there I had trials straight away at Nottingham Forest and Leicester, so I was going there for a few weeks, then it came to making the decision. For me it was quite easy because I had a few more mates at Leicester and it was more of a family orientated club, and my family felt really comfortable. We were bang in the middle at Loughborough, it’s literally 20 minutes each way, but we ended up going with Leicester.

My uncle is massively into football and I’ve got a cousin who’s really close in age to me, so it was Match of the Day every Saturday night or Sunday morning and we just tried to watch as much football as we could. From the age of eight we would train on Tuesday and Thursday and then have a game on a Sunday and I just fell in love with it from then really. Any chance you get at school you’re playing football and just enjoying it at that young age. Before you know it, you’re playing to try and get your scholarship. I then came through the years at Leicester and really enjoyed it.

My whole family ended up moving to Leicester, literally a stone’s throw from the training ground. It was so close that I used to walk in, so it was easy. I got my scholarship and I really enjoyed that. We had a really strong youth team. Me, Barnesy [Harvey Barnes], Chilly [Ben Chillwell], we were all in the same youth team, so we had a good youth cup run, getting to the semis as well. Then I think the next year after that I went on loan to Burton Albion in February time I think, and they were at the top of League One. I went there and loved it. I played every game after the first three, we ended up getting promoted on the last day away at Doncaster. We needed a draw and ended up drawing 0-0. I think they had to beat us by about 10 goals to have a chance of staying up and they came out and put their kids out and they were ratting all over the place. We had a few shaky bits in the game but got through it and went back straight away the year after, making my Championship debut against Forest actually, and it’s a bit of a Derby with Burton only being down the road. It was the first time I’d played in front of a really big crowd in a massive game. I can remember being nervous, proper nervous. More nervous than I’ve ever been to be fair. We lost 4-3. Probably one of the toughest games I’ve ever played. I think I just got a bit swept up in the moment really.

I played a few more games but I didn’t really settle in as well as I did the year before. I ended up going back to Leicester in January and then I got my first proper injury – pulled my hamstring – so I was out for about 10 weeks I think. Then I came back and went to Hong Kong with Leicester the season after. Then the manager made me captain for the 21s and I really enjoyed that. We had a really good team then as well. I think we went about 19 games unbeaten, something like that. Then I made my debut in that year against Liverpool in the cup. Unbelievable really. Going back to Burton, we played Liverpool in a cup game and I can remember just thinking “oh my days.” They beat us 5-0, but it could have been anything. I can remember just thinking that these boys were just worlds apart from us. I think I was 18 or 19 at the time and I was just thinking that I couldn’t get near anyone. My game was obviously to get close and personal, but I just couldn’t keep near or keep up with anyone.

So back at Leicester I made my debut under Claude Puel against Tottenham, came on in the 78th minute or something like that. I really enjoy that and from there on he had in me in and around the first team. I was still playing a lot for the 23s and then he put me on the bench for a few games. Then against Newcastle I think Wilf [Ndidi] got injured in the first half and I came on and played the rest of that game, felt really comfortable and really enjoyed it and then the next game I made my first start against Burnley, away. It was tough to be fair and we lost 2-1, but we played really well and after that we played Palace away, so I made a few more starts. Then we played… who did we play…

You’re reciting so many memories, are they still really strong for you?

Yeah, definitely. I think because growing up, from about the age of seven I watched Leicester every week. My Uncle used to take us up to the King Power and we used to watch every game. Every single game. It was something that we looked forward to. Growing up around the place it’s just crazy to actually go and play there. I can remember at 10s and 12s there was a family room and sometimes we used to see the players and we all used to get excited. And then to actually grow up… I can remember watching Kingy [Andy King] when he was growing up and we used to watch them driving out of the training ground and watching them in and around the place. So then to go on and do it myself, it’s like every time I step out on the pitch it’s like “Oh my days, I’m actually doing it.”


Are you ever on the pitch and start thinking about where you used to sit in the stands?

I do sometimes to be fair, when I’ve been on the bench a few times. Where we warm up sometimes is where we used to sit, not far from the dugout and we obviously used to watch the players and shout as kids. Especially when you’re starting out and you’re in the tunnel you can hear everyone outside and I’ve been lucky enough to play at Anfield, Wembley, the Etihad, and to play at places like that, when you’re stood in the tunnel, you have little flashbacks to when you used to watch Sky Sports and obviously the cameras were in the tunnels watching the players go out, you get a massive buzz off that.

Which players did you look up to when you were younger?

I think as a kid when you’re running around the playground, everyone wants to score goals and do skills, but then when I grew up I found I wasn’t actually that good at it! When you’re young in the playground, you think you’re good running around with kids, but when you come into the academy and you see the technical qualities that some of the kids have you just think “ah, maybe that’s not my strong point…”

I used to watch a lot of Arsenal when I was growing up, so I caught the backend of Henry, Van Persie and Fabregas. Even Diaby when he was fit, I used to watch him, he was a strong, powerful midfielder. Even the likes of Jack Wilshere I used to watch when I was younger. Eventually I did start watching loads of midfielders, seeing how to play the game and learning as you grow up.

How tough was your journey through the academy and on to breaking into the first team?

I can remember coming back from the loan spell and then we went to Austria in pre-season and this was the season just after we won the Premier League, so at the time Kante was there Drinkey [Danny Drinkwater] was in midfield, Jamo [Matty James], Kingy, and you’re just training with these boys and you’re thinking “how am I going to reach this level?” You feel like you’re not even at arm’s length. You’re training with them but you’re still thinking that these lot are miles and miles better than me. I think you gradually grow, you start becoming more confident. It’s so important when managers put little bits of confidence in you, giving you ten minutes here and there. Obviously, you have that confidence in yourself all the way through, but at some point, you might start doubting yourself and people would be lying if they didn’t say that.

There are obviously loads of ups and downs that you go through, just little ones, like not being on the bench, not making the team. For me, I travelled a lot with the first team but was left out of the squad, so as much as I was so happy and felt honoured to travel and be around the first team, it was a bit disheartening every single time the team sheet was put up. You’re expecting to not be on it, and you watch the boys get excited and hyped for the games and having team talks, but it almost feels like you’re at an arm’s length still, even though you’re travelling and stuff.

Do those kinds of memories make you hungry to stay in the position you are?

Definitely. Even last season after I played under Claude a few times, we played City, Chelsea, City, Everton, and we got something like nine points, it was ridiculous. But even after that I fell back out of the squad and I was on the treadmill as the boys were going out to play, and stuff like that sticks in your memory. You’re blowing out of your arse and you’re watching the boys putting on their boots, getting ready to play in front of 30,000 people. So then getting back into the team you just feel like “right, this is my place and my time now, I’m not going to give it up so easy.”

When you were a kid going to the academy, did you actually think that it could be a career?

Yes and no. I guess all you know is football and all I wanted to do was football. But I never really thought of it as a job, because I enjoyed it so much. It wasn’t a job, I just couldn’t wait to get home from school to play football because I enjoyed it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t wait to get home to train so that I could earn lots of money when I was older. It’s more that you do it for the love of the game.

How about your family, you said they moved to Leicester? Did they see the bigger picture do you think?

In hindsight, yeah, they definitely did, but they had to give up so much. My mum and my uncle driving me to Leicester three times a week, it was a lot after school. Doing the school run and then trying to get into the city centre at half five is a nightmare. I was late all the time! And it took a lot away from my younger brothers and sisters to travel on a Sunday and in midweek to sit and watch me train, so yeah, your family do give up so much for you, especially mine. They’ve been so supportive, and for them they’ve just said, “you go and enjoy what you’re doing” and they never put pressure on me to make me feel like I have to make a living out of it.

When you go into a League One or a Championship changing room and people are fighting for their mortgages. If they smell the littlest bit of weakness, they’re not going to be shy to put you in your place. So, if you go in there thinking that you don’t deserve to play then you’re not going to"

Growing up, do you think you were ever treated differently because of your heritage?

Not at Leicester. As I said, one of the reasons we chose Leicester is that it’s such a family-oriented club and it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities in England. People make you feel so welcome and comfortable. But of course, in life you go through stuff where people make you feel uncomfortable and wrongly so, but I guess that’s all part of building you up and making you a stronger person.

Do you ever think of the positive influence that someone like yourself from the South Asian community can bring through?

Only in the last six months to a year has it come through really. I’ve always wanted to do it for myself and my family really, but over the last year people have mentioned it quite a lot and your eyes open a little bit and you start to think “I might be doing something here”, because before I never really thought about it. So, a little bit now, but I wouldn’t say it’s added any pressure. I still have that hunger and motivation myself to do it.

You’ve obviously had an impact for England at under 21 level. How would it feel for you to make your debut for the senior team?

Amazing. People say you can’t put it into words and that would be it. I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s the greatest honour as a sportsman – or in any walk of life – to represent your country. So, to be able to do that would be amazing for me and my family.

Having played through the youth ranks with England and having tested yourself against the best in the Premier League, do you think you can accomplish that senior standard and hit those heights?

Definitely. The more games you play, the more you realise you’re there on merit, you’re not there because you’re lucky. You’re playing against the best week in, week out and training with the best day in, day out. You grow in confidence every day, every time you put in a good performance. It’s my time to do this and I’m ready for it.

There’s a strong chance that you could be the first person of South Asian descent to play for the England senior men's team. Would that make you want to get involved and support certain causes?

Yeah, of course. People have helped me so much through my life and in my short career so far, so I’d definitely want to be able to help the South Asian community to thrive and believe that they can be as good as anyone else. As much as there are clichés, it’s a lot of self-doubt. People don’t put themselves out there so that they can fail, but how do you ever know if you don’t.

At Forest they had this mad stat where there were like 200 kids in a room and they said one, maybe not even one of you is going to make it. My Uncle came home and said to me that it was impossible for me to do it. So, looking back on little things like that, it puts it all into perspective of how much of a big deal it is"

Is the importance of failing and getting back up something that you’ve learned from an early age?

Of course. Even as short ago as this summer in the under 21 Euros when I got sent off. I was heartbroken to say the least. At the time I felt like I’d let so many people down; my family, my teammates, but then to come back to pre-season and to start the first four games of the Premier League season has helped to put it behind me.

It’s amazing to be able to say that you’ve started the first four games of the Premier League season. Is it still a bit mad for you or is that the norm now?

It’s still a bit crazy. Going out on to Stamford Bridge and even the King Power, it is amazing. But you’ve obviously just got to put that aside when you’re going out to play football. It’s a game of football and this is what you’ve been training your whole life for.

Your energy on the pitch has won fans over, but how would you describe yourself off the pitch?

I’m just chilled out really. Lazy if anything! [Laughs] Yeah, I just come home and play with my daughter, play a bit of PS4, get into bed. There’s nothing exciting going on really. I spend as much time with my family as I can and that’s just to do with the way I’ve been brought up. We’ve always had a house full of people. It’s never peace and quiet, ever. But I like it, it’s what I’m used to.

You’ve got your multiple barbecue set up there. Is it nice now that you’re in a position to be able to host somewhere like this? Is that a big part of what you’re about?

Absolutely. That was a lot of my motivation when I was younger, to help my family. They sacrificed so much and now it’s time for me to start paying them back as much as I can. You can obviously never pay back all of it. It’s unbelievable what they do as parents. So just to give little bits back, have people around, it’s something that I like to do.

What was the experience of not being in the limelight to suddenly being in it like? How did you handle it?

Well some people hide away from it and some people love it. I’m not bothered to be honest. I’m so chilled – my girlfriend would probably say too chilled. But it just doesn’t bother me. I’m not playing football for that reason.

When it comes to style, is there anyone in a fashion sense that you look at? Some players are proper out there and some are far safer…

Do you know what? Sharky [Marc Albrighton], he wears some good gear everyday to be fair to him. But I don’t know, I’d say I’m bang on in the middle, I enjoy what they all wear. It depends how I’m feeling. I go from time to time liking different styles. As you grow older you’re just more yourself. I’m not really fussed about what I wear or what people think of it, it’s just what I like to wear.

Has your style changed over time?

Yeah, but that wasn’t my style, that was my mums! I didn’t have much of a choice in what I wore back then. But yeah, even over the last couple of years it’s changed.


Do you look up to people in other fields, like musicians or other sports?

Yeah musicians. And other footballers, there’s a few. There’s loads of personal shoppers on Instagram and stuff and you can get a few little bits off them. Mix and match it and find out what you like. I still don’t think I’ve found exactly what I’m looking for.

Have you used a personal shopper?

Nah, me and the missus just go into Flannels all the time because it’s local. I’ve used Make It Personal a few times. Those two are quite good and I think quite a lot of the footballers use them. They’re reliable and they’ve got good stuff.

How about your hair then, it’s a key feature that I’m sure you’ve been asked about loads? When did that start?

I just hated getting my hair cut when I was younger. I remember my uncle having to carry me into them and I was fighting as much as I could. So eventually when I grew old enough I thought you know what, I’m not cutting it. Eventually it grew and it grew and I just liked it being big.

It takes confidence to rock your own style though. How important is it to have that confidence through your various walks of life?

You have to have so much confidence in yourself. To the point where, borderline, people find it arrogant. When you go into a League One or a Championship changing room and people are fighting for their mortgages. If they smell the littlest bit of weakness, they’re not going to be shy to put you in your place. So, if you go in there thinking that you don’t deserve to play then you’re not going to. I feel like having self-confidence, you’ve got to show it in the right way. You can’t go into changing rooms thinking you’re the man. You’ve got to be respectful in the way you show it, but you have to have it, otherwise I don’t think there’s space for you in the game. The competition is so high, everybody wants to be a footballer when they’re younger. So, you have to have confidence in your own ability and be able to express it in your own way.


Do you see the way that you present yourself as being another form of expressing who you are?

Maybe subconsciously. I don’t think about it too much. I’m not a person who cares too much about what other people say. I guess that’s confidence in its own way.

You mentioned Flannels earlier. Are there particular brands that you’re into at the moment?

I’m quite into Balenciaga and Palm Angels. Palm Angels is a new one out that I think a lot of people are using. So those two I use quite a lot.

Are there any other trends that you’ve seen pop up in the changing room or across football recently?

Madders and Chilly love their chains and their iced-out watches, but I don’t think the chains and diamonds are really me. I like it when they wear it, but I’ve tried it on and thought nah, that's not me. 

What about sneakers, is that something you’re into?

I do buy loads of pairs of trainers, but I never look after them. My missus goes mad. I just buy them, and they just get messy, so I’ll just use the other ones and leave them. Then I end up having to buy new ones. 

You’re with adidas, what made you gravitate towards them as opposed to other brands?

At the time it was the boots, I just loved the boots. My first pair of boots were Predators. So, I’ve always loved the boots. But then to try them and then get sent loads of clothes, I really enjoyed it all. I think adidas is leading with the clothing range at the minute for me. It’s got such a wide variety of stuff that everyone can feel comfortable in. I wear it almost every day into training. Easy to just slip on a tracksuit, but then if you want to be a bit out there, there is a lot of stuff to wear.

On that first pair of boots, do you remember getting them?

Yeah, I was in JJB Sports in Loughborough and there’s the range from £30 to £80 to £200. So yeah, I remember that. I also remember buying them. My uncle used to make me clean them. He used to be a bit like, “Get up, you’re having porridge before you go to training” and he was big on me looking after myself and my stuff.

What do you look for in a pair of boots now?

Comfort. It’s comfort for me. If I don’t feel comfortable in a pair of boots, then I don’t like wearing them. Obviously if they look good then it’s a massive bonus, but for me it’s just comfort. 


What about music, how big is music for you?

I listen to a lot of music. I’ve got such a strange range from Lil’ Baby to a bit of Birdy. In the car with Wardy [Danny Ward], my next-door neighbour, he’s quite big on the music. So, we have a wide range.

Do you go to watch music at all?

I went to watch Lukas Graham last year in the O2. Kasper sorted me out with a few tickets. Me and the missus went and it was really enjoyable. I think they’re supposed to be around again later this year or next, so I’ll go to that again. So anytime we can get tickets we try and go. Lewis Capaldi is in Nottingham next month, so we’re going to go and watch him. Then there’s the Drake concerts and stuff, which everyone goes to.

You’ve signed a contract extension with Leicester. What does it mean to you and where your career’s going?

So good. I think once it was all signed and sealed, I can just concentrate on my football. You feel like people want you there. You feel valued. You’re a proper member of the first team. Without really knowing it, that’s what you’re working towards from the age of eight. So, it’s like 12 or 13 years of work have gone in to that first contract. When you actually have time to sit down and think about it and talk about it, it’s mad. Me and my uncle sit down and talk about it, and he said one time at Forest they had this mad stat where there were like 200 kids in a room and they said one, maybe not even one of you is going to make it to be a professional footballer. And he came home and said to me that it was impossible for me to do it. So, looking back on little things like that, it puts it all into perspective of how much of a big deal it is.

Your family must be so proud...

I think that’s such a big motivation for me. Sometimes when I’ve not played well, or the time I got sent off, I think about them first. Family’s just such a big thing to me. It is nice to put a smile on their face.

The Euros are coming at the end of the season. Do you aim that high?

At this point I just want to stamp my place in Leicester’s line-up. I want to play week in, week out. Coming from that, hopefully there’ll be an England call, but at the minute I’m just concentrating on getting into the Leicester team and performing well.


Choudhury and Leicester are back in Premier League action on Saturday when they travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United.