Lille defender Simon Kjaer has played in three of the biggest and toughest leagues in the world, and is constantly linked with a move to the Premier League. The Denmark international and current Ligue 1 star spared some time to talk about his proudest career moments, the toughest striker he has faced and who is his go-to team on Fifa!
ORP: You have played in Serie A, Bundesliga & Ligue 1, which of these leagues, for you, has proved the toughest challenge?
SK: It’s interesting to test yourself in different leagues because they really are very different. And that difference makes you challenge yourself and develop your potential. Now in the French Ligue 1, it’s very physical; and I guess that’s why players from this league in general look to adapt quickly to the pace and style of the English Premier League. The games are often played with a high tempo, and all the teams are extremely good tactically – it’s actually a lot like the Italian Serie A, and that’s surprised me. The German Bundesliga was something else: full speed ahead, every man for himself and not so much focus on the tactical aspects, but that’s only my personal experience. I played in Wolfsburg during a very turbulent time for the club, with managers and sporting directors flying in and out. Right now I enjoy the French style. And the quality? Well, the fact two teams, Monaco and PSG, are in the last eight of the Champions League – that’s quality, isn’t it?
ORP: International fixtures are a hot topic now with the next round of games coming up soon, does anything feel better than representing your national team? Whether it be a friendly or a World Cup match?
SK: That question is spot-on for me, because, no, if you talk about emotion, then actually nothing feels better than representing my own country, Denmark. Playing for Denmark in our traditional red jersey and listening to our national hymn before the game is what I dreamed of as a child; always running around with a ball in our own garden or at school – probably too much in the eyes of the teachers – and in my childhood football club with all my friends.
ORP: At Wolfsburg, you were heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, is this still something you would like to do in the future?
SK: It’s definitely a move that I wouldn’t rule out, but in football you never know about the future. The Premier League is for sure a fantastic league – and to many people and players it’s the promised land, but to me, it isn’t as simple as that. I have my little son now, and as a family we are enjoying a quiet life in Lille – that helps me play my football to a high and consistent level. I enjoy being at a club like LOSC where you don’t hit the panic button after a handful of bad games and sack the manager, and restart everything over again. And for sure, we have had our bad games this season, which has been disappointing after our 3rd spot last term. There is both reason and passion here, for example, with the great LOSC fans in our terrific stadium. I respect that, so I am not going anywhere just to get a shot at the Premier League. But if the right combination appears with a Premier League club, then, of course, I would love yet another challenge – and I was only just 26 in March – after having already played in three of the big leagues.
ORP: Who is the toughest striker you have played against in your career?
SK: I enjoy the challenge every time I am up against one of the top strikers – the adrenalin rush of the biggest occasions and challenges is what a footballer lives and breathes for really. But if I should mention one, then I have a sort of ongoing battle with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I consider him a top-class football player and a unique striker, with extreme physical and creative skills. I have marked him on so many occasions in both Italy and France as well as in important games with Denmark. My Denmark debut was in a decisive World Cup qualifier against our arch-enemy – and fellow Scandinavians – Sweden, and I was up against Zlatan. We won 1-0 in Stockholm and maybe that started something because in our meetings he has always found it difficult to score goals. I have always had the feeling that my team and I keep him under control, even though he has always played in the top, top teams of these leagues and I haven’t.
ORP: Who is the greatest player you have played with and which players were your inspirations growing up?
SK: The one with the biggest influence on his team is, without any doubt, Francesco Totti at AS Roma. He is just such an enormous character everywhere – in the team, in the club, the city of Rome and Italian football. And even in a high age he’s such a classy player. It was great fun to play with him and sometimes just watch his out-of-this-world skills – it’s an experience I will always cherish.
Growing up, I was mostly looking at central defenders to copy the best things from them. Maybe I could mention two very different characters – John Terry with his impressive presence and then Paolo Maldini, who is a true legend in my mind. To be honest, I was so proud as a teenager when I was selected for the Serie A team of the season alongside Maldini in central defence after my first term at Palermo.
ORP: You were part of the team that kept the Netherlands out in Euro 2012, how satisfying is it as a defender to keep a clean sheet against a top team?
SK: Thanks for reminding me! It brings back good memories of a game I will always remember. Yes, we beat an extremely good Dutch team with a lot of top names in our opening game of Euro 2012, and, of course, as a defender it feels fantastic to keep a clean sheet in such a game. For me, as a defender, a clean sheet feels a bit like scoring a goal for a striker. It’s ‘job done’, and therefore, our last season in Lille felt spectacular for me, with 21 clean sheets in Ligue 1. The Netherlands win is one of the highlights of my almost 50 Denmark games. But, sadly, we threw away our chance of advancing from this “group of death” when frustratingly losing 2-3 to Portugal then 1-2 to Germany.
ORP: Who is – or who would be – your team to play with on Fifa?
SK: I would choose Real Madrid right now for a game of Fifa, but I wouldn’t put myself in the team!
ORP: Finally, what advice would you give to youngsters who wish to become defenders in the future?
SK: Actually, I have advice which is pretty useful in my opinion. As a young central defender you must know and accept that you have to be very, very patient. If you’re a striker, you might get a lot of chances to play coming on as a sub in games for only 10-15 minutes to start with, but at least you’re getting on the pitch. As a central defender, you don’t get the same amount of chances. You have to hit the ground running, so you have to be prepared and ready when the chance comes. If you start out nervously and have a bad game as a young central defender it is likely to cost your team – and you probably will have to wait for a long time again before getting your next chance.
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