Sport Timothy Castagne said he moved to Leicester because of Brendan Rodgers
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Timothy Castagne lay flat on his back, staring into the Lisbon night sky. The briefest moment of serenity in the midst of the chaos that swirled around him. It was all over, he knew that much.
Only two minutes earlier, his Atalanta side were a goal up against the giants of Paris Saint-Germain. Just stoppage time remained. A place in the Champions League semi-final beckoned for the Italian underdogs.
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Then Marquinhos equalised. And then Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting won it for PSG. As quickly as that. The former Stoke forward arrived on to the end of Kylian Mbappe’s cross an instant before a sprawling, desperate Castagne. Too late.
A season for a club whose campaign of free-scoring fun was set against the horrors of their home city of Bergamo being so ravaged by the coronavirus brought to a crushing end.
Castagne looks back at it now with surprising realism. ‘I think everyone who watched the game could see we were a bit lucky,’ he says. ‘Neymar missed a few one-on-ones. Conceding two goals in the last few minutes was difficult but, if you watched the full game, they deserved to win. We were proud of what we achieved but it was also bad because we could have gone further. We did our best.’
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Castagne has moved on. He’s a Leicester player now, joining Brendan Rodgers side in a £21.5million move earlier this month. The Belgium international scored on his debut, too, in 3-0 opening-day Premier League win over West Brom.
He’s settled in quickly and, in truth, it’s no surprise. Alongside him at Leicester are two of his Belgium team-mates in midfielders Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet.
The latter crossed for his debut goal. ‘I’ve always liked Dennis,’ he says. Easy to see why. ‘We all like hanging out with each other. It’s good to have them here, it’s made things easier.’ Wilfred Ndidi, too, was a former team-mate at Genk under former Scotland manager Alex McLeish.
Castagne spoke with Tielemans before committing to his move to Leicester. ‘He said they needed a guy like me’. They certainly did after selling Ben Chilwell to Chelsea. ‘All the things he said were very positive and from what I’ve seen, it’s all true.’
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It is early days, of course. Castagne will hope to secure another clean sheet against Burnley on Sunday afternoon. But already he looks built for the Premier League. Fit, strong, quick. Drives forward, giving Leicester the width Rodgers wants from his full-backs.
It was the Northern Irishman who convinced Castagne that Leicester, despite having missed out so agonisingly on Champions League football, was the place for him even when Tottenham and vanquishers PSG were interested.
‘I liked Leicester’s playing style, good football with high pressure. But I also wanted a coach with whom I can have a relationship. We can talk, he can help me work on my weaknesses. That’s why I chose to come here because I had a really good impression of him.’
The feeling worked both ways. Rodgers had been a long-term admirer of Castagne and tried to sign him during his time at Celtic.
‘I have a profile of player I like to play in my teams and usually the guys that play full-back are ones who are really athletic, have great speed going forward and also have tenacity when they defend, ’ said Rodgers. ‘That was something I had seen with Timothy.
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‘I have been delighted with him, getting to know him. Everything that I expected and more. He has got a real hunger, from the first day, to impress and improve. His desire to get up there and support but also to defend is critical in how I want to play.’
Castagne cites former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as his hero. ‘He’s been my idol since I was a young boy,’ he says. ‘That’s why I followed the Premier League. I remember the one he scored after he came back in 2012 (against Leeds in the FA Cup). He came on around the 80th minute and scored immediately. Typical open the boot to the far post. It was amazing.’
They always say never meet your idols but Castagne had the chance to work alongside Henry when the former Gunner worked as assistant coach of Belgium alongside Roberto Martinez. ‘It was great, though I didn’t tell him he was my hero!’
Perhaps luckily for Castagne, Henry was not required to step into training to show what he could still do. Not so fortunately, now he has Jamie Vardy to contend with in training instead.
And with the European Championships on the horizon this summer, Castagne will hope to nail down his place in the squad.
‘I came to Leicester because I feel that this coach and this team can elevate my play even more. I want to have a good season and help the team. If I can do that, it’s going to help me for the Euros.’
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