Kjær on recovering from his ACL injury, living and looking like a hermit, why ‘the Scudetto is mine’, arguing with Ibrahimović, climate change and more…

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Simon Kjær has given a long and revealing interview to Sportweek, as he is finally back following an ACL injury.

Precise, with the ponytail set, tall and imperious like only a Viking could be. Simon Kjær, however, introduces himself in a modest way: “I don’t like to talk about myself. And anyways, I don’t have much to tell: I’ve always been a reserved, normal person. I like my job and being at home with my wife and children,” Kjær said.

“I take the kids to school, go to Milanello and stay there until it’s time to pick them up. Someday I will have to think about another job, but today I don’t do much else. I don’t think that I’m that interesting.”

But how can Simon, a man crucial to the Scudetto of Milan, even if he missed half a season, one that is held by Pioli as an example and inspiration to the young guys, and one who saved the life of teammate Christian Eriksen – be not that interesting?

It can’t be, as the interview with Fabrizio Salvio of Sportweek, the weekend magazine of La Gazzetta dello Sport shows. You can read it in full here:

You say that sooner or later you will have to think about a different profession: any idea at the moment?
“No, it’s still early. If I start thinking about the aftermath, I’d shift some of the attention I have on football today to something else.”

But do you imagine staying in this environment?
“I don’t know, it depends on so many things. For example, where I will live. I am Danish, my wife Elina is from Sweden. When I was 18 I came to Italy, to Palermo, and this will be my 7th year here. I like the climate, the food… but I also liked Spain, where I also played. But then I think about my and Elina’s parents getting older and being far away. But staying in Italy is a possibility.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Where did you meet your wife, considering you are from different countries?
“On vacation in Barcelona. She came to live with me when I was at Roma. Then came Milas and Viggo, who are now 9 and 6 years old respectively and play football. The first one moves between midfield and defense, he is not interested in scoring goals. The second is still small and has no specific role, he runs all over the pitch. Hey are beginning to have great enthusiasm.”

Did you pass it on to them?
“I never picked up a ball to play with them. I wanted the passion to be born in them without me passing it on. I had them very early, when my day was already all about football: game, recovery, rest, training, game. I didn’t feel like going to play with them in the garden. Today that they understand it, I do two shots.”

Simon Kjær during training at Klagenfurt, Austria. (@acmilan.com)

Speaking of wife and children: did they prefer you with a beard and long hair, when after the ACL injury in your left knee on December 1 a year ago, you had decided not to cut it again until you were back on the pitch?
“[Laughs]. Absolutely not. But at some point my wife realized that she couldn’t bother me anymore – I had decided that. If I say something, I do it. Elina said: at least arrange it a little. I admit that the beard was unwatchable. I trimmed my mustache a little because the hair was now getting in my mouth.”

But what was it for you: a challenge to bad luck or a bet with yourself on the recovery time?
“No. I had never suffered such a serious injury and for the first time in my career I had to face a period in which I would be working alone, away from the rest of the group. My mother told me: pretend that you are a hermit, one of those who live in the forest, separated from everything and everyone. I felt just like that. Yes, the management was close to me, my teammates were encouraging me, but in the end it was I who had to get up at 08:00 in the morning every day to work until 20:00 in the evening: therapy, rehabilitation, alone together with the physical therapist. So I said to myself, if I look like a hermit, then so be it: I will only cut my beard when I return to working with the team.”

Simon Kjær celebrating winning the Scudetto at the end of Sassuolo-Milan at Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore on May 22, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

You returned against Marseille a week ago. Did you always think positive?
“I never had any doubts. I know how many hours I have put in so far. I’ve had a lot of patience, although now I’m starting to lack it because I want to go faster. I want to push, but I know I can’t do it too much because if I stretch now then I’m out four years. I don’t need to do nonsense, I have to respect the times and the signals that the body transmits to me. If I had been 24 or 26 then it would’ve been a different matter, but I don’t have the resilience of that time.”

Has the injury changed you, made you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know?
“Yes. Undergoing every day heavy and boring exercise because you know you need to do them is not easy. Had I been young, I don’t know if I would have succeeded. Today I realize that I have the experience to understand that if they ask you for 10 repetitions than you have to do one more, not less.”

Simon Kjær celebrating at the end of Milan-Atalanta at Stadio San Siro on May 15, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

It was a six-month long and painful rehabilitation: what helped you endure it?
“There were times when I had to put on music throughout the training session as a stimulus. And I used to think about how much and how Kobe Bryant used to work, as he was my role model.”

And at home?
“When I got hurt, they told my wife: now you can enjoy him a little more. True, I was at home with her and the children, but along with us lived my physical therapist for 3 months, 5 days out of 7 a week. My priority was always the knee. But I was never pissed off.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Did you discover yourself as a warrior or did you always have a spirit like that?
“In the last 5 years, although it could be a few more, I’ve always had the same mentality, which I built up slowly. I’ve gotten to a point where I know what I have to do and I have no problem with suffering. If something makes sense, I do it. But it has to make sense. If someone says to me: do 10 stretches, I ask: why? Give me a good reason and I’ll do them, even if I’m dying.”

When did the spark that allowed you to build the mentality you speak of took off?
“When my first child was born. At that moment I put things in a different perspective and realized that from them on I would no longer be the most important person in my life, but would always come second. I was going from 1st place to 2nd. And now that there are two children, I’ve slipped to 3rd.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

7 years in Italy, 4 in France, 2 in Germany, Spain and Turkey: what is left of Denmark inside you?
“The basics: punctuality and having the same respect for everyone, from the cleaning lady to the President. If a Dane says to you: we’re here at 14:00, that means were are there at 14:00, not 14:10.”

“In Italy, it depends on where you are: in Milano it’s a little better than in Palermo. There, 14:00 also becomes 14:30… but I had a great time in Sicily, I opened my eyes to the world.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

And going around Europe, what have you learned as a man?
“I picked up a little bit everywhere. I really like the Italian mentality, the taste for good, for good wine… your cuisine is perfect. From you, in France and Spain you know the art of slowing down, of taking time for the pleasures of life. In Denmark, you live only on Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays. You just work the rest of the week. If you invite someone to dinner on Tuesday or Wednesday, they look at you funny.”

It remains to talk about Turkey…
“It’s a country that thrives on passions, in football and outside of it. My second son was born in Istanbul; it will always be a special place for me. It’s a metropolis full of different cultures, a body separate from the rest of Turkey.”

As a football player, however, where did you learn the most?
“The way of defending, the very way I think about football, is Italian. In France, the game is more physical, in Spain it’s more technical, but you adapt. My basics are from here.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Thinking about the Scudetto, what did your injury steal from you? What emotions and feelings?
“When I got hurt, I pulled the plug from football for 4 months. I didn’t even watch the games. I was in contact with Pioli and the teammates, nothing else. I didn’t go to Milanello because I had nothing to say and nothing to give. I came back more or less with 10 games to go because I could start doing some work with the team again and give something of myself back. The guys welcomed me by giving me a jersey with my name signed by all of them. Milan is really a family and I love everyone. What did the injury steal from me? I know I had a big hand in winning the Scudetto, because it was the conclusion of a path of growth, technically and mentally, that began 2.5 years ago when I arrived at Milan. Last season I played only 11 games, but I feel the Scudetto is mine. We won it all together.”

After the victory against Sassuolo, which was decisive for the title, di you celebrate in the dressing room in the same way as the others?
“Of course. We celebrated as Champions must. I usually keep things side, but once in a while I’m able to let them out.”

How would you define yourself, in 3 objectives?
“Professional. Reliable, 100%. Optimistic.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Is there anything you would like to change?
“No. I can always learn, I will stop with football when I stop growing. I am not perfect, however, I am willing to correct my mistakes. But I am the way I am, and the way I am has allowed me to get here. My wife occasionally reminds me that everything is black and white for me, also with the children. When I say ‘no’, it’s ‘no’. She, on the other hand, has many colors. Compared to my father, who was even more clear-cut, I occasionally have some shades gray, but very little. I don’t like gray.”

Your father was the Team Manager of Midtjylland, where you started playing…
“Yes, I joined when I was 15. My mother, on the other hand, played handball. I tried as a kid too, but at the dinner table in the evening the topic was always just football. Also my sister played football.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

What kind of leader is Kjær?
“On the field I may be a bit mean with the words, but off the field I try to figure out how to help the youngsters. There is the one who needs a caress and the one you can be harder on. We football players are strange… the 5 years as Captain of my national team served me.”

In a discussion between you and Ibra, who has the last word?
“If I think I can win an argument with Ibra, I’m going to be disappointed. You have to understand who you have in front of you and he is unique in his genre. But Zlatan appreciates anyone who disagrees with his opinion and says so. Then, in the end, he decides and that cannot change.”

And when you mark in training, who gives the other more of a beating?
“We are on a level playing field. He definitely talks more.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Speaking of leadership, you showed it by first rescuing Eriksen on the ground, passed out. Did you act on instinct or reasoning there, too? And were you surprised by your reaction?
“In cases like that, you can never think before you act. Surprised? I only hope that I would have acted the same way if, instead of rescuing a teammate in a EURO game in front of millions of viewers between the stadium and TV, I had found myself on the street with a stranger.”

And were you surprised by Eriksen’s arrival at Manchester United?
“No, because after what happened to him, he became stronger than before. I am so happy for him: we are old friends and we talk every week.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Denmark is nature, lakes and forests: are you concerned about climate change, and is it a coincidence that 2 Scandinavians like you: Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the Norwegian Thorsby, formerly of Sampdoria, are the forefront of environmental advocacy?
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence: Copenhagen is the greenest city in Europe. We citizens can do something, but not everything. It is the governments of the world that should take action, but the discourse as always falls on the economic interests of this or that. And sadly, it is always money that rules.

Let’s close with Milan. Pioli said that at the beginning of last season he immediately understood that Leão and Tonali were different from the previous season: did the same happen to you in this training camp, watching some of your teammates?
“Daniel Maldini seemed to me to have matured, more ready. I hope he can prove it at Spezia, where he went on loan. The Club has done well, because he needs to play. On Rafa Leão and Tonali I say that I want to see them this year: they are no longer young guys, they have to grow enormously. What they did last year is no longer enough. Leão has extraordinary qualities and so he can no longer afford games where he is seen little: he has to be decisive all the time. If he can make this leap, he can be one of the top 5 in the world. Then, I want to see Origi: I was with him at Lille when he was a kid, now I expect a Champion who makes the difference because he has everything to be one: speed, physique and feet. Isma Bennacer also has to grow, carving out an important role for himself.”

Simon Kjær during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

What about Kalulu? How will you send him back to the bench?
“It will be the decision of the Coach. Pierre had a great season. From my point of view, he is not a rival. If I do my job, if I am doing well, there is only one person who can decide – Pioli. Then, I can get angry with him, but not with Kalulu, Tomori or Gabbia, because they are teammates and one of them will be by my side on the pitch. I will need them, their help, so they can never be rivals. I know I will not play 45 games this year. There will be opportunities for everyone, but of course I want to play. When there is a Derby, I want to play.”

Despite the Scudetto, you are still behind Inter and Juventus in the predictions: what do you have to do to convince the skeptics?
“But I understand them. The opponents have been aggressive in the mercato. When there were 10 games to go, no one believed in our Scudetto. Now it comes even harder because everyone wants to beat the Campioni d’Italia.  But we can still grow. No one here at Milan is done yet. Even us the old guys: if the body starts to collapse, the head has to go faster.”

How did you find Pioli?
“He pushes a lot to keep everyone awake. He repeats that we will have to suffer. It will be a challenging season for him to manage as well. But it will also be a very interesting season for us. And it can be beautiful.”

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