At the start of December, the name Hamza Choudhury wouldn’t have registered with many football fans.
The Leicester under-23 captain had played just six minutes of first-team action for Leicester this season in a Carabao Cup win over Wolves. The most memorable thing about it was a missed penalty by the young man in that shootout win.
Few could have foreseen what was around the corner.
Come Boxing Day evening, his life had changed.
In just over a week in the build-up to Christmas, Choudhury had started three matches, two against Premier League champions Manchester City and one against Chelsea. With him at the forefront, Leicester came through that testing time with two jaw-dropping Premier League wins and a defeat on penalties in the Carabao Cup after holding City to a draw.
Wolves vs Leicester
January 19, 2019, 11:30am
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In total, boss Claude Puel has started the confident defensive midfielder in six of the last seven games. And he’s likely to be on the teamsheet for Leicester’s trip to Wolves on Saturday lunchtime, live on Sky Sports.
His rise has been rapid.
Choudhury is the latest young prospect to make the step up to the senior ranks, following in the footsteps of Ben Chilwell. As a scholar at Leicester, Choudhury cleaned Jamie Vardy’s boots. Now he’s serving him on the field in a midfield role that relies on him to break up play and feed Leicester’s creative talents further up the pitch.
Choudhury’s key stats (all comps)
Minutes played: 505
Passing accuracy: 83.5%
Duels won: 24
Sky Sports reporter Patrick Davison went down to Leicester’s training ground to catch up with the 21-year-old, who won the 2018 Toulon Tournament with England’s impressive under-21 team this summer.
Choudhury understands how life changing those three fixtures against City and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge could end up being.
He said: “Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but right now that week has been the most important of my football career.
“When you get a taste, it makes you hungry and makes you want it all the time. You need to be patient and take opportunities when they come.
“I’d been training hard and the manager takes a keen interest in young players, which helped. I took my opportunity against Manchester City despite not playing in three months. I went out there and tried to show what I can do, luckily I did that.
“It was amazing. We took each game as it came as it was a tough week. We played Manchester City and put in a really good performance before going to Stamford Bridge and taking three points. That gave us so much confidence. We then came back to the King Power and beat City. It showed everyone what we can do when we all perform.
“We’ve set the bar quite high so now we have to meet those levels every game.”
Choudhury was in and around Leicester’s title-winning side under Claudio Ranieri but never made an appearance as he was sent on loan to Burton Albion. There, he helped the Brewers gain promotion to the Sky Bet Championship, featuring 13 times.
He admits he matured as a player during that period with the mix of training with Leicester’s first-team and encountering the pressures of playing in League One. It was during those sessions that he got to learn up close from N’Golo Kante, who was the ‘tour de force’ in the Leicester midfield during that epic Premier League title-winning campaign. A player Choudhury simply refers to as “a machine”.
Choudhury got to test his mettle against Kante – now at Chelsea – in Leicester’s 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, which was his first Premier League start of this season.
As a ball-winning midfielder himself, Choudhury bases a lot of his game on Kante’s style.
“He’s one of the nicest people you’re ever likely to meet,” he says.
“When he first came in at Leicester everyone thought he was playing with the under-23s but then we got onto the pitch and he ran us all ragged. He doesn’t stop running. He’s a top, top player. His best asset is winning the ball back and as I play in the same area he’s someone I look up to. You see the plaudits he’s getting and it makes you work harder to get onto his stage. He’s won everything in such a short space of time.
“That just shows how good he is.”
Choudhury stands out in more ways than one. His football does plenty of talking but it’s hard to get away from his loud Afro haircut, which makes him instantly recognisable on the pitch.
“The hair gets a lot of attention, especially from Kasper Schmeichel who wants me to get it cut,” he added.
“I’ve had it since I was 15. My second game on loan at Burton, we played Port Vale and a few of the old pros were pulling it. Its part and parcel of it.
“I guess I don’t take myself too seriously.”
The player himself might not, but opposition Premier League midfielders will certainly have to.
Watch the full feature with Patrick Davison when Leicester City take on Wolves, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11:30 on Saturday.