The Davide Astori award is given to Kjær: “I’m happy to be able to honour his name”The Danish defender, who played a pivotal role in saving teammate Christian Eriksen's life last summer, joins the Italian Football Hall of Fame: "During that terrible time, we acted like a real team." On his future: "I dream of winning the Scudetto with AC Milan"
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
He is one of the strongest defenders in Italy’s top league, but Simon Kjær made the most significant impact of his career without even touching a ball. He didn't just save a goal, but a life. On June 12, 2021, Denmark played Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen; the first match of Group B in the European Championship. In the 43rd minute of the first half, Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed as the ball went out of play: the stadium fell silent, and the situation appeared critical. But Simon showed the requisite strength and composure to rescue his teammate without any delay. Eriksen was suffering a cardiac arrest, but his teammate helped to save his life. A gesture for which he was awarded, alongside the medical staff of the Danish national team, the UEFA President's Award. It is for this that he received the Italian Football Hall of Fame award dedicated to Davide Astori: "I remember Davide on the pitch as clear as day,” said the AC Milan. “Like many, I also remember his tragic death. Both Pioli and my teammates speak about him regularly. I know that his passing shocked the whole country and the rest of the footballing world. It is still a very sad tragedy, and it will forever be so. Receiving the award dedicated to Davide’s memory means a lot to me; this is a very happy and proud moment for me and an opportunity to honor his name."
But let's look back to that afternoon of 12 June, when the whole world of football stood still: “The events of that day will stay with me forever,” Kjær recalled. “The main thing, however, is that now Christian is OK. He is back with his family and back on the pitch and can now continue doing what he loves most: playing football. During the terrible events of that day, we acted like a real team: each of us did as much as we could to help a teammate and friend. I must admit, however, that I have tried to forget these moments and rarely like to talk about it. What happened that day in Copenhagen is the result of the joint effort of players, doctors, paramedics and staff. At that exact moment, all of us were there to support Christian. But, as a display of gratitude to the FIGC and to show my respect to Davide Astori and honour his legacy, I have decided to relive this chapter.”
A defender doesn't always have the luxury of time to think. He must act on instinct, and it’s that instinct that alerted Kjær even in a completely unpredictable situation: “When I was running towards Christian, just like the rest of my teammates, I had no idea that he had suffered a cardiac arrest. I was solely focused on getting to him as quickly as possible and trying to help him. I learned that this is the most important thing. If you see something untoward, you must act, and you have to do so as quickly as possible. In first aid, speed is crucial. Do as much as you can and do it swiftly, and then hand over to the professionals as soon as possible. That day, we were lucky because we had doctors and paramedics on hand.”
Kjær hasn't just demonstrated some great qualities on a human level, he also possesses excellent technical qualities. In Italy, he's worn the shirts of Palermo, Rome and Atalanta, eventually becoming a key pillar in AC Milan's defence: “I feel at home in Serie A,” he said. “I enjoyed my time in La Liga with Sevilla, but when the opportunity to return to Italy arose, I didn't think twice. From the heart, I can say that I am delighted to be at AC Milan. Sometimes, dreams do come true: I remember that many years ago, when I was still at Palermo, I told my agent that I would love to ply my trade with AC Milan. Now, I am finally here. I like Serie A, amongst many other things in Italy, which has become a second home. Food, culture, nature, people and, of course, football. The Italian game is always one I’ve held close to my own philosophy, which is that it’s a team-focused style. We are all individuals, but we must work together as a group. Teamwork is the tactical DNA of Serie A, as we saw last summer at the European Championship.”
A European Championship won by Italy and in which Denmark played a massive part, falling one hurdle short of the final: “That triumph was the result of hard work and group values and demonstrated what you can achieve with these. It was really impressive to see Italy win. On a personal note, I was obviously disappointed with the defeat in extra time against England in the semi-final: it would have been a wonderful experience to be able to face Italy in the final at Wembley, a country that has given me so much that I’ve adopted it as my second home." There are several Azzurri players that Simon has met along the way, both as his teammates and opponents: "When I think of Italian players with an international profile, you can’t not mention Donnarumma, a fantastic goalkeeper with whom I was delighted to share part of my AC Milan experience with. There's also Verratti, who, for me, is in the top three players in the world in his position. I've also always been impressed by Chiellini, who is one of the all-time great defenders.”
To be a leader in the world of football, it is important to come across the right coaches capable of cultivating talent and helping a player to mature: “I have been inspired by so many people along the way,” continued the Rossoneri defender. “When we talk about coaches, I am very lucky at the moment to be able to work with Stefano Pioli at club level and Kasper Hjulmand with the national team. I have a great relationship with both of them; they are fantastic tacticians and fantastic people. I try to learn from both of them every day and wherever possible. There are many figures who have inspired me, including the coaches and people I worked closely with during my very early career in Denmark. They taught me the most important thing of all: that you must always want to learn, grow and push yourself in every way possible. When you play football at a high level, you must challenge yourself. I always approach today wanting to be better than yesterday, and then tomorrow I want to be better than today. You must keep raising the bar and push yourself to the limit while keeping that core hunger and desire, and put all your passion into trying to improve. In professional football, training is the key. The higher the quality and volume of your training, the more room you create for improvement and the better you will play when it matters. I was told this at 15-16, and – believe me – it's the truth. Commitment to training is the real secret.”
And now all that’s left to do is look ahead and hope to recover as soon as possible from the injury that has kept him out of action for the last four months: “I still have many dreams and goals, but the greatest of all is to win Scudetto with AC Milan.”