Lille defender Simon Kjaer talks to Andrew Gibney about his side's Europa League clash at Goodison Park and the prospect of plying his trade in the Premier League...
When looking at the career of Danish defender Simon Kjaer, it’s hard to believe he is still only 25-years-old. He has played over 200 matches across spells with Palermo, Wolfsburg, AS Roma and now Lille. For a while, the €10 million spent by Steve McClaren to take him to the Bundesliga in 2010 made him the most expensive Danish footballer ever.
Three years later, he made a surprise move to France, and under the guidance of the defensive-minded coach René Girard, Kjaer has rebuilt his reputation and has become an indispensable part of the LOSC defence.
As Lille finished third in Ligue 1 last season, Kjaer was at the heart of the defence that kept 21 cleans sheets, helping them to one of the best defensive records in all of Europe. It was this defensive stubbornness that Everton came up against at the Stade Pierre Mauroy two weeks ago.
It was no surprise to the French media that Kjaer was at his imperious best in the 0-0 draw against the Premier League side, but being named man of the match by reporters in England was a nice bonus for Kjaer.
“Everybody enjoys a thumbs up.” Kjaer tells FourFourTwo. “I'm pleased I had a fine game but I would have exchanged it for three points. We could certainly use three points in the group even though we're unbeaten.“
In the opening group game against Russian side Krasnodar, it was the Danish defender who equalised for the home side. Displaying his set-piece prowess, he smashed in a free-kick from around 20 yards out, showing the technical ability, combined with his Viking-esque attitude, that has quickly won the hearts of the Lille faithful.
Against Everton, Kjaer barely put a foot wrong, despite coming up against the highly experienced Samuel Eto’o and then the power and pace of Romelu Lukaku. It is that sort of battle that Kjaer thrives on. His impressive performances are not built on last-ditch tackles and outstretched legs, but on intelligent positioning, an impressive ability to read the game and always being in the right place at the right time.
If Lille are to have any chance of picking up a result at Goodison Park on Thursday night, they will need Kjaer and his defensive partner, Marko Basa, to be at their absolute best. The Dane believes that playing in Ligue 1 is the perfect preparation for facing strikers of Eto’o and Lukaku’s quality.
“I have faced Eto’o a few times before in Serie A and for Denmark, so I know him quite well as an opponent. It was my first time up against Lukaku, but as a big strong striker he is pretty much the same type of player that we see in Ligue 1. Obviously they are both high quality as the Everton team in general.”
Much as they did in Germany against Wolfsburg, Lille will be looking to sit deep, rely on the organisation of the defence and hope to hit their opponents on the break. Lille has found goals hard to come by this season, scoring just nine goals in 12 league games.
The failure to find the back of the net has put more pressure on the defence. Opponents are starting to realise that Lille’s impotent attack isn’t going to cause any real danger, so they can take more of a chance and throw more players forward.
Les Dogues have still kept six clean sheets this season, but away defeats - 3-0 at Lyon and 2-0 at Rennes - were uncharacteristic to the side Girard sent out last season. Asked what Lille would have to do to leave Goodison Park with all three points, Kjaer was clear that the attack had to improve.
“A lot of the same stuff we did in the first game - keep another clean sheet. And then it would be nice if we could threaten their goal a little bit more this time. We need to take our chances in the second game.”
In recent months, Kjaer has been linked with a move to Manchester United, and with his family known to be fans of Liverpool, the stories tipping him to move to the Premier League will continue to surface.
Another impressive performance from Kjaer in front of the English media will only help to raise his profile with Premier League clubs. However, Kjaer isn’t interested in making a move just to chase the bright lights of the English game.
“The Premier League is always an interesting place to play your football, and in the past I have considered moving there a few times," he said.
“The French league seems like a good stepping stone to the Premier League with the very physical style of playing, but I need to admit that I will not be moving just for the sake of playing in the Premier League.
“I feel way too good about playing for LOSC and living in Lille with my family, so everything would have to be just perfect to realise a move to England. I wouldn’t be moving there just for a bigger pay check for example. Otherwise I am completely happy where I am.”
Lille have built a reputation in recent years for developing players and selling them on for a large profit. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard is still their greatest export to date, but if Kjaer can help stifle the Everton attack on Thursday night and continue to develop and impress at the heart of the LOSC defence, it will be hard for the northern club to resist the advances of English clubs.
Kjaer would also find it hard to resist the chance of playing at Old Trafford or his family’s beloved Anfield.