He is the latest import from Belgium’s golden generation, and already appears another triumph for Leicester’s recruitment team. Timothy Castagne has waited for years to fulfil his ambition of operating on England’s grandest stage and made an outstanding debut last weekend, scoring the first goal in Leicester’s stroll against West Bromwich Albion.
It was initially expected that he would be a direct replacement for Ben Chilwell, who joined Chelsea for £50 million last month, yet that display at the Hawthorns hinted at a multitude of possibilities for Brendan Rodgers.
A £15 million signing from Atalanta, equally capable on the right or left of defence, Castagne seems made to measure for the Premier League.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a young boy to play here so I’m very happy to be here now,” he says.
“I like the playing style, playing football and high pressure. I also wanted a coach with whom I can have a relationship. We can talk, he can help me work on my weaknesses and things like that. That was a big point in my search for a team.
“They know I can play left and right in a four or in a three. He [Rodgers] said that the Premier League was very well suited to me and I have the style to play with Leicester and how they want to play.”
Castagne is already at home in the dressing room, thanks to a number of familiar faces. He is an international team-mate of Youri Tielemans and Dennis Praet, and first emerged at Genk with Wilfred Ndidi. It was at Genk where he made his reputation, citing Alex McLeish – who managed the Belgian club for the 2014-15 campaign – as a crucial figure in his development.
“Alex was the guy who had trust in me. I had never played in the league before so he just put me in the biggest game of the season [against Club Brugge] at the age of 18. He was very helpful,” he said.
“After training he would take me and we would train individually. For me, he’s always going to be the guy who started my career, so I’m always going to be grateful to him for that.”
Rodgers has been an admirer of Castagne since his time in charge of Celtic, and points to the defender’s vast experience at the age of 24.
Last season, Castagne was a key member of the Atalanta squad who reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League in their first ever entry into the competition.
They could even have gone further, but succumbed to two goals from Paris St-Germain deep into added time. Their fairy-tale run was achieved against a chaotic backdrop, after the club’s home city of Bergamo became one of the first in Italy to be ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Giorgio Gori, the city’s mayor, declared the first leg of the last-16 tie against Valencia in mid-February as a “biological bomb”.
Castagne reflects on the experience quietly. “It was a tough time for everyone there, especially the city,” he says. “Not going out for 2½ months was a long time. There was Netflix with my girlfriend and a bit of PlayStation. We would play some online games with the family, use Skype to see each other and try to keep in touch.
“We received a treadmill from the club at home and we had to run every day. We arrived a lot more prepared which is why after 60 minutes we would kill all the other teams.”
Leicester made their move shortly before the sale of Chilwell, yet he has been a target since his time in Belgium. Recruitment at Leicester remains one of their huge strengths and the signing further underlines the joined-up thinking from management to the analysis team, making plans for the squad years in advance.
Castagne is set to make his second appearance against Burnley on Sunday, while Leicester will discover their opponents in the Europa League early next month.
“I came here because I feel that with the coach and this team I can elevate my play even more,” he says.
“I think if I had stayed at Atalanta I would also have a chance to play in the Euros [with Belgium] but I feel if I play here I can get more confidence from working with this coach. I had a very good first game, but now I have to try and continue on that path and not stop.”