Simon Kjær has spoken to La Gazzetta dello Sport, saying ‘Maldini and Massara brought me to Milan to have a voice in the dressing room and to help out with the younger players’.
Many were skeptical when Milan signed Kjær on loan with option to buy from Sevilla last January, but not many can argue that his tenure with the Rossoneri has been a huge success so far.
The 31-year-old is one of the oldest players in the squad and while he helps in directing and developing the youngsters around him, they show him the ways of the new age of social media: “I have experience on the pitch, with Instagram less…”, the Dane international told Marco Fallisi of La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I decided to open a profile for the fans, if I can give them something also outside the matches then I’m happy. But I’ll admit it that I still struggle.”
Kjær, in January you were a bet, today you are irreplaceable. What’s happened?
“My history speaks clearly – I need to feel confidence: I have always repaid the coaches who have given me continuity.”
So it’s thanks to Pioli?
“When I have doubts or think that there are tactical aspects that can be changed to improve the individual and collective performance, he listens to me: he wants to find the ideal situation for his players. In the end, of course, he decides: but there is a dialogue. He is the perfect coach for me.”
Do you feel like a leader?
“Yes, on the pitch and in training. I watch the others and give a hand. I have always tried to lead by example, I make myself heard. And I try to convey a message to the youngest of players, because over the years I have learned that we must never be satisfied: now we are first in the standings but we cannot rest on the satisfactions of the moment – we must work to grow further.”
You are among the most-listened to in the dressing room. What effect does it have on you?
“Maldini and Massara brought me to Milan to have a voice in the dressing room and to help out with the younger players. I arrived at a difficult time, but despite the criticism that fell on the players, I knew that the quality here. Now we are at the opposite end: the results have arrived and there is enthusiasm. But let’s remember that it doesn’t take much to go back.”
How do you not lose your compass?
“Let’s take advantage of the experience accumulated in the last six months, it has made us so much more mature and quickly. By now we are young only on the identity cards, because we have proven to be a great team, reaching a very high level. Let’s try to bring Milan back to where it belongs.”
You are already at the top – first and unbeaten. Are you ‘da Scudetto’?
“We are in the lead, so of course we can win it. However, the season is still long, we need to continue living game by game like we’re doing. The Scudetto must not become an obsession – it must be an objective because we are Milan and the history of Milan is made up of titles. After so many years away from the top, we are there. We will do our best to return to the Champions League and we’ll try to fight for the league title, we have a duty to believe in it.”
With Ibra, everything seems simpler…
“For his ability to combine technique and physicality, Zlatan is unique in the world. I’ve never seen a dominant striker like him.”
How is your relationship?
“Excellent, like with the others.”
Romagnoli is back at your side. How did you find him?
“He’s a great defender, you can’t argue about it like some do: after a long injury it’s normal to suffer a bit. Ale pulls straight and trains well – soon you’ll see him at the top again.”
The season began with Gabbia – will he be a point of reference for the Milan of the future?
“No doubt. Matteo and I talk a lot, he reminds me of a younger me – he wants to learn and he listens.”
We often see a Kjær long ball for Ibra – an axis born in training?
“I have enjoyed long balls since I was a kid. Then of course, if you have Ibra in front of you, you have a better chance of success. If you always play short you become predictable, with verticality you induce the opponents to make mistakes, and you create space for those who join from behind: being a defender I know this well – and when I have the ball I try to read the situations and serve Ibra.”
How do you manage physically?
“It’s a thin line, you can’t afford to make a mistake: the time between matches is mostly recovery. That doesn’t mean that you don’t train – there are always little things to take care of. Working with Pioli helps me: sometimes I say to him ‘today I would only do one part of training in a group, I prefer to work with a trainer’. He trusts me, he knows that everything is aimed at the match.”
Is being a starter in the leading Milan team a revenge on the time at Atalanta?
“In Bergamo I played 6 games which we never lost in. Gasperini never told me ‘you are too old’ or ‘you play badly’… leading me out was a tactical decision. But I have nothing against him – it didn’t work. I accepted his chances and when I wasn’t playing I took advantage of it to train. I wanted to be at the top for the next call; Milan arrived. It’s gone well, no?”
Your international teammate Eriksen suffers at Inter…
“We are very good friends, we talk every week and see each other as soon as can. It reminds me of my situation in Bergamo: sometimes the ideas and methods of a coach are fine for you, at times less. I know he won’t give up.”
You returned to Serie A eight years after the last time. Has it changed?
“We play a more dynamic, direct and offensive football. And the difference between the big and so-called small teams is very narrow: today you can’t afford to play at 80% and take the game home. I like Sassuolo, they are always proactive, Atalanta are intense and aggressive and Hellas Verona – they play man-to-man, run and make you sweat… we’ll seen it.”
The most difficult striker?
“It depends on the game. Inter, for example have two great strikers, but for his characteristics, Lautrao put me in more difficulty than Lukaku – he’s more mobile and unpredictable. And then there is always Ronaldo – in the penalty area he’s almost unstoppable.”
Also at Milan they don’t joke around – everyone scores, only you are missing…
“We have many ways of attacking and scoring. I can wait, for me it’s more important to play 90 minutes without goals conceded.”
Kjær, tell the truth – was there a moment when you feared that Milan would not buy you out?
“I always thought that I had done everything possible, but I knew that the club would decide. When I signed, I lived a dream and I continue to live it now that we are first.”
The next dream to be realized?
“The border between dreams and objectives is very narrow – let’s start by returning to the Champions League as a Milanista. Then I’d like to end my career here. I’m still young, no?”