Youri Tielemans

Youri Tielemans: A Home From Home

We’ve just ticked over into the afternoon on a mild but blustery day in Leicester, as Youri Tielemans pulls up around the corner from St. Martin’s Square and makes his way over to one of the town centre’s iconic buildings to speak to an earlier edition of LCFCQ.
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The grade II listed building that is now Middleton’s Steakhouse was designed by local architect Samuel Perkins Pick and later became Parr’s Bank at the turn of the 19th century, before it was converted into a NatWest bank in the 1970s. 

Over four decades later, Belgium international and summer signing Tielemans pays a visit and as he walks through the double glass doors and enters the restaurant, he’s greeted by some warm smiles from customers and staff alike. 

There’s no surprise, though. After a four-month spell on loan, which started in February 2019, Tielemans elected to join the Foxes on a permanent deal in the summer, much to the delight of the Club’s fans. 

He feels at home in Leicester, and after taking a seat on the bright, red leather benches upstairs in the restaurant, he orders an English breakfast tea. 

“It’s just a tea, man!” he laughs after being quizzed on his choice. “When I go to restaurants, I’m honestly quite open about food and drink. I like green tea as well, peppermint too. At home, I usually don’t drink tea, it’s not something I drink alone at home – you know what I mean? 

It’s little details, but if we can give something as players back to the fans by stopping and taking some time with them, especially with the support they give us when they come to the game, it’s amazing for them.

Youri Tielemans LCFCQ

“It’s been amazing here, honestly. People are very open with me. They’re very welcoming, so it was a very good atmosphere for me here in my time on loan. I like the city, honestly. I like the mix of communities, of people, and that’s always been there in Brussels. That’s why I like it. That’s why I feel comfortable here – I feel home and it’s going great for me.

“That’s because the mix of cultures is the same. The personalities in Brussels are way different. There are not many people who live in Brussels, they come to work there because it’s a large European city. Here, it’s more like a little town, a little family. There is a lot to do in Brussels, but it’s not as open as here.” 

In Leicester, he’s made many friends. His team-mates have welcomed him with open arms, and he’s more than happy to say hello to supporters wherever he’s enjoying downtime in the local area.

“When I’m with my family, all of the people I have met were very respectful of me being with them,” he says. “They would say sorry for bothering me, but when they approach you, taking a picture literally takes 10 seconds so it’s okay! 

“It’s little details, but if we can give something as players back to the fans by stopping and taking some time with them, especially with the support they give us when they come to the game, it’s amazing for them. If we can make them smile, and make sure they come to the next game, then it’s good.” 

The City No.8 married when he was aged 20, and two years later has two daughters – Melina and Léana, with the youngest only arriving in October of last year. 

“Melina’s now three, and I’ve recently had another daughter, Léana, and she’s been very good – touch wood!” says Tielemans with a wide smile. “She’s doing fine, and obviously, my first daughter is really happy to be a big sister. 

“She’s really, really happy. For parents, the most important thing is how your first child is going to get along with your second, and we were a bit worried that she might be a bit jealous, but no – she’s so proud of her!” 

Youri was born in Uccle, as was his first daughter, and grew up in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, which is located in central Belgium. However, he wouldn’t spend much time at home due to his active childhood.

He explains: “I was born in Uccle, where one of the best hospitals for giving birth is. That’s where Melina is born as well, in Uccle. Now, they’ve moved to another hospital in Belgium, and that’s where Léana was born. 

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Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans

Tielemans has played in all but one of City's Premier League games in 2019/20.

“Sint-Pieters-Leeuw is the name of the town where my house was when I grew up. Honestly, I spent most of my time at school, football or judo. Most of the time, I wasn’t home, but I used to live there before moving into my apartment with my wife. 

“When I was younger, I really just enjoyed what I was doing. I played football and we didn’t have sports on TV, so it was difficult to watch games when I was at home. I really looked up to first team players at Anderlecht, and Zinédine Zidane, but that was more when I started to realise I could become a professional – that I could do something in football.”

It was in the summer of 2006 that Tielemans fully fell in love with football, as Italy lifted the World Cup for the fourth time. Belgium did not qualify for the tournament and would have to wait another eight years to do so, but the glitz and glamour of the world’s most prestigious competition captured his attention.

“My first memory of football was the 2006 World Cup,” Tielemans reflects. “I was nine-years-old, almost 10. It was in Germany, and it was beautiful. That’s when I really started to watch football day and night – I’d watch football videos on YouTube and play and watch football whenever I could. I really enjoyed it, and before that, I’d always enjoyed sports in general.

“I did judo, football, basketball and a bit of tennis as well. I really tried to do something. I have to move, I’m quite an active guy, and so football was really the one that I chose to continue with.” 

“I stopped judo when I was 16, when I had my first professional contract. Up until 16, I was a blue belt. I was quite good at it, and if I had done more, I’d have been higher.” 

It’s clear that Tielemans has experienced plenty during his life so far. He’s played for three professional football clubs in the highest tier, he’s featured in the UEFA Champions League and he’s married with two children. 

At 22-years-old, he has noticed his own maturity develop to the extent that he now has an interest in history and culture – subjects that he didn’t necessarily enjoy too much during his adolescence. 

“At school, I enjoyed sports, of course!” he chuckles. “It was two hours a week, so these were my best two hours of the week. Apart from that, the one that I struggled with is history. 

“When you’re younger, you don’t realise that culture is that important, it’s afterwards that you really start to think about things like culture. At school, I never read my books, but now, if I have an interest in something, I can read a book. 

In my first season at Anderlecht, though, I played as a goalkeeper, but the problem was that the coach I had at the time saw me in goal, and once I conceded, I took the ball, dribbled past everyone, and I scored! He said ‘why are you in goal? Play on the pitch’. So, I was a goalscoring goalkeeper!

Youri Tielemans LCFCQ

“For example, I read Michael Jordan’s book. I read it in two months when we were away from home. I love doing things now that I didn’t love at school.”

The two hours he would spend playing sports at school eventually led to a spot in Anderlecht’s academy, where he first played in goal, but that soon changed when he realised he was a much better outfield player. 

“I’ve always played in midfield, really,” says Youri. “In my first season at Anderlecht, though, I played as a goalkeeper, but the problem was that the coach I had at the time saw me in goal, and once I conceded, I took the ball, dribbled past everyone, and I scored! He said ‘why are you in goal? Play on the pitch’. So, I was a goalscoring goalkeeper!” 

The educational aspect of his time at Anderlecht allowed him to balance school with sports during what was a hectic schedule for a youngster that had aspirations of becoming a professional sportsman – whether that be in football, martial arts, basketball or tennis.

He explains: “I was about 15 minutes from the Anderlecht training ground, but I used to go to school in the centre of Brussels until I was about 11 or 12. Afterwards, in Anderlecht, there are two Flemish schools and two French schools who work with the football club.

“We could train during class, and then come back into school afterwards. After school was done, we had some teacher who’d stay and we’d catch up on what we missed. They were long days, and then after that, we’d have a bus that would drive us to the training ground, and then we’d have training.

“That’s why I was never at home, because I’d spend my whole day at school, having lessons, then training, then more lessons. Then, what I’d miss, I’d catch up on.” 

As one of the world’s most renowned academies, Anderlecht provided Tielemans with the ideal footballing education, and after progressing through the levels at Belgium’s most successful club, he opted to move to AS Monaco in 2017. 

“I spent 20 years there, pretty much my whole life in Anderlecht,” he recalls. “It was strange when I left at the beginning, because when you’re younger, you never think you’ll leave Belgium. First of all, when you’re younger, you never even think you’re going to have that level of playing professional football. When that comes, then you never think that you’ll play abroad, that you’ll always stay in Anderlecht. 

“When you see that you reach certain levels, that’s when you move, and I made the move to Monaco. Monaco were a great team, they were just named champions of France and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, so it was a great move for me. It was strange at the beginning because it’s a very different life in Monaco.

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Youri Tielemans
Youri Tielemans

Tielemans is excited for what the Club could achieve in future.

“I had an apartment in Monaco with a view on the sea, with a swimming pool downstairs. It was basically a dream life, it always had good weather. I enjoyed being there, but I couldn’t stay my whole life there. Last season, in Monaco Leonardo Jardim left, then Thierry Henry came in, and then four months later Jardim came back. Under Henry, we had 16 first team players, important players injured, so we had to play with five players from the Under-19s. Henry made the best out of it, but we struggled to get results.

“When I went back, I had a good discussion with Jardim and the club, and we came to a conclusion that it was best for me to go to another environment where I could play freely. I’ve learned a lot from it, that you always have to perform even when the team is not doing well, but it was a very difficult period football-wise.” 

After his time on loan from Monaco to King Power Stadium, Tielemans joined City on a four-year contract in July 2019.

He had initially joined the Foxes in February 2019, just four months after Leicester City’s Chairman, Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and four others lost their lives in a helicopter crash just outside King Power Stadium. 

“Honestly, I felt that the players and staff were amazing with me,” reflected Tielemans during what was an extremely difficult time for the Football Club. “You could feel a certain atmosphere that it was still on everyone’s minds. 

To win the Premier League, and Leicester are still here, and they’re doing really well – it’s great.

Youri Tielemans LCFC TV

“He is still there in everyone’s minds and hearts. I never met Vichai, but when you meet his son Top, and see how passionate he is when he comes into the dressing room before the game, he really wants us to win.

“He really makes sure that we fight until the end, like his father has told him. Then, the other players who were there when Vichai was there, they really make sure that the legacy goes on. We really want to make him proud.” 

While Youri never met Khun Vichai, the Belgian is still very much a part of what the Club’s late Chairman has built – a team that is now targeting European football for the second time under the Srivaddhanaprabha’s ownership after their run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2017.

“Even though I didn’t know him, I want to make him proud because he is the Club,” he adds. “He’s not part of the Club, he is the Club. Since he’s been here, the Club has done massively well, from the Championship to the Premier League.

“To win the Premier League, and Leicester are still here, and they’re doing really well – it’s great.”

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