Leroy Fer is casting his mind back to his Swansea City initiation ceremony during the club’s pre-season tour in the United States and carefully considering what mark out of 10 he would give himself for his rendition of Drake’s Controlla at the team hotel. “A solid eight,” says Fer, smiling. The footage has yet to be released but the suspicion is that Fer’s impersonation of the Canadian rapper was rather good, much like his dancing at his wedding. Fer was married to Xenia two years ago, a few weeks after being part of the Holland squad that reached the World Cup semi-finals in Brazil, and their slick routine on the dancefloor has been watched by hundreds of thousands of people on YouTube and social media, including a few footballers.
“Very popular,” says Fer, laughing. “We were playing against some clubs and even in the game players came up to me and said: ‘Wow, what a wedding dance you did.’ Sammy Ameobi and Benik Afobe both said that to me during a match. And when I signed here, all the boys were like: ‘I’ve seen you on that wedding dance.’”
Looking at the clip, everything is so perfectly in time that it is tempting to wonder how many hours Mr and Mrs Fer spent fine-tuning their moves. “We didn’t even practice that much. I swear, it was two times for 20 minutes,” Fer says. “On the day, we had a slow dance first – a proper wedding dance – we were talking to each other and everybody was watching. So I said to Xenia: ‘Are we going to do this?’ And then we just looked at the DJ and he flicked the tune. No one else knew what was coming.”
For those familiar with the lyrics, Chris Brown’s Loyal may seem an unlikely song choice for a newly married couple. Fer chuckles at that suggestion. “It was because it was a big hit at that moment, and some people we knew before we got married weren’t that loyal to us,” he says.
The 26-year-old midfielder has always been a performer. When he was at Feyenoord, he took part in a filmed rap duel with Vurnon Anita, the Newcastle midfielder then at Ajax, and they even recorded a song together. “We both love music, he’s really into rapping, he’s got his own studio, so we made one track with Ryan Babel and another football player in Holland, Mitchell Burgzorg – he’s a good rapper. That song went big as well.”
Not as big, however, as the headlines Fer generated when he accidentally bought a horse for €30,000. For those unfamiliar with this brilliant tale, Fer and Xenia were living several floors up in an apartment at the time and, at the risk of stating the obvious, had nowhere to keep “Django”. “That’s a story,” Fer says, laughing at the mention of the stallion he briefly owned.
“I was playing for Twente at the time. A friend invited me along to an auction for really good horses – racehorses – and some of them went for €500,000. It was a totally new experience for me. There was this horse, they said it wasn’t the best, but that it was nice. I was playing around on my phone, I heard €30,000 and I said to the guy: ‘This one’s for me’, because I thought the price would go higher afterwards. I was still on my phone and I heard: ‘One, two …’ I said: ‘Is this me?’ And everyone said: ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s you.’ Suddenly they said: ‘Sold to the guy upstairs.’ Someone realized it was me and the guy said: ‘Leroy Fer bought the horse.’ They got me to stand up. I was sweating. I didn’t want the horse – I was living in an apartment.
“Xenia wasn’t with me, so I called her and said: ‘Babe, I bought you a horse.’ I had to repeat it. She’s into horses, I joked with her before that I was going to buy her one. But she couldn’t believe it when I phoned. Thankfully, about 10 minutes later, someone came up to me and said: ‘Do you really want that horse?’ I said: ‘Nah, I was just fooling around.’ He offered to buy it off me for €35,000, so I made a bit of money. But for 10 minutes I was thinking: ‘Shit, I’ve got a horse. Where shall I leave it?’”
Friendly and generous with his time, Fer comes across as a likeable guy. He was born in Zoetermeer, in the province of South Holland, to parents who were raised in Curaçao, a small Caribbean island off the Venezuelan coast. A practicing catholic, Fer had a strong religious upbringing and went to church every Sunday with his mother and younger brother, Leegreg. His father, Lesley, was a baseball player in Curaçao and recently returned there to work for the government.
Fer always wanted to be a footballer and joined Feyenoord when he was 10 years old. Physically strong for his age, he was nicknamed De Uitsmijter (The Bouncer) by his youth coach and made his first-team debut at 17, when he was still completing his studies and working in Feyenoord’s club shop. “I’d play in front of the supporters and then serve them,” he says, smiling at the memory.
He moved on to Twente, where he played under Steve McClaren – “I can’t say a bad word about him” – and was close to joining Everton in January 2013 only for the deal to collapse after the Premier League club wanted to revise the payment structure of the transfer fee on the back of a medical.
Six months later Fer signed for Norwich but his first season in the Premier League ended with relegation and so did his second, after he joined Queens Park Rangers in 2014, not long after scoring for Holland against Chile at the World Cup. With Swansea scrapping for survival when he arrived on loan in February, Fer could have been forgiven for worrying that he was walking into a third straight relegation.
“I didn’t think like that,” he says. “To be fair, when I went from Norwich to QPR, because QPR came from the Championship, I had that feeling a little bit: ‘Is this the right option?’ I joined and got relegated again, and that was hard for me, playing in the Championship for six months. Swansea were struggling last season. But I could see we had enough quality.”
Fer made a big impression on Francesco Guidolin, the Swansea manager, who knew nothing of the Dutchman when he signed and described him as a “good surprise” at the end of the season. When a permanent deal was put in place in July, Fer was more than happy to sign and move Xenia and Ace, his 11-month-old son, to a city where the players get more than their share of perks.
“With QPR, I was playing for one of the smallest clubs in London, and you can do whatever you want in the city and nobody knows you. But here it’s different, they treat you like a king,” Fer says. “You go out to eat, some people are waiting for a table, but we get one straight away. I don’t like that, so I say: ‘Leave it, give the table to them.’ I also get free popcorn when I go to the cinema – I’m happy to take that.”
A few more points would also be gratefully accepted. Fer has two goals to his name already this season, yet he is the only Swansea player to have scored in the league, and back-to-back defeats have done nothing to alter the view among many fans that this threatens to be a long season. “Some good names – Ashley [Williams], André [Ayew] and Bafé [Gomis] – went to other teams in the summer, that’s a big loss,” Fer says. “But we had some new players coming and I still think we’ve got a strong team.”
Time will tell whether that proves to be the case. Swansea host Chelsea on Sunday afternoon, visit Southampton the following week, then face Manchester City twice in the space of four days (the first game is in the EFL Cup) before taking on Liverpool and Arsenal.
It is a daunting run and Swansea are going to need some “solid eight” performances from Fer on the pitch. “I had to do that initiation ceremony twice,” he says, smiling. “I did it when I came on loan, but Sue [Eames, the football utilities coordinator] wasn’t there and she’s the boss when it comes to the singing. So when we were in Washington all the boys said I had to do it again. Even the gaffer got involved and said: ‘Leroy, sing.’”