At the tender age of 21, Simon Kjaer already qualifies as well-travelled, having gone from Danish football to the Bundesliga, via a name-making spell in Serie A, over the course of just three years. The centre-back is looking to settle down now, however, and make 2008/09 German champions Wolfsburg his home.
"I hope so," he told FIFA.com when asked if he envisages a long stay at the Volkswagen Arena. "We want to grow and carry on progressing. I’m here to learn a lot, but obviously also to prove myself."
Kjaer left Midtjylland in 2007 to join Italian top-flight outfit Palermo and, with Dorin Goian alongside him, became a linchpin in central defence while attracting attention from the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid. "Yes, that’s right, but moving to Wolfsburg was best for my development," recalled the Denmark international, who has played every minute of his new team's league campaign thus far.
“This was the right move, and I’m definitely happy to be here now. I want to achieve as much as I can. What’s important now is to concentrate on the immediate future and get the team back on track," he said, referring to the three opening Bundesliga defeats which Die Wölfe suffered before finally recording their first win of the 2010/11 campaign at the weekend.
"Before I transferred here, I had only heard positive things about the Bundesliga. The stadiums are always full and the atmosphere’s great – I could tell that right from the first matches I played. Playing here is a challenge for me. I want to get better step by step and to prove myself, even though I didn’t manage to do that in my opening matches."
That said, such setbacks are all part of football, and Kjaer also suffered disappointment with Denmark's group-stage exit at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. After playing the full 90 minutes in the first two games, he had to watch from the stands as his team lost their final game 3-1 to Japan, having picked up two yellow cards.
"We were obviously disappointed as we should have gone further,” he said. “But at least playing in a World Cup at my age was a success on a personal level."
Kjaer had further individual success last year when he was voted Danish Talent of the Year 2009, a real honour, but one which also entails great responsibility. "You’re always under pressure, when you change clubs for example," he explained. "People have high expectations of you and you obviously want to fulfill them. It’s part of the job."
This responsibility is unlikely to lessen in the near future after a number of Denmark's more experienced players, such as Jesper Gronkjaer and Martin Jorgensen, chose to announce their international retirements after failure on African soil. The future of Danish football now lies in the hands of Nicklas Bendtner, Christian Eriksen and Kjaer, among others, and the latter is "looking on the positive side [of those retirements]. Playing in both a EURO and a World Cup would be very important in terms of our development."
The Danish Dynamite have already taken their first step towards qualification for the UEFA EURO 2012, defeating Iceland 1-0 in their opening match with Kjaer’s Wolfsburg team-mate Thomas Kahlenberg notching the winner in stoppage time. Norway, Cyprus and Portugal will be their other opponents in Group H.
Kjaer also has an extra source of motivation in his father Jorn, who was a professional footballer and also plied his trade with Midtjylland - a team which, like his current club, are nicknamed the Wolves. "Unfortunately my dad had his playing career cut short due to injury, so I’m proud to be able to help him realise his dream through me," the Wolsburg No34. "He gives me a lot of important advice.
“I’m playing for a great team at the moment," continued the classy defender, before rounding off the conversation with his high hopes of swiftly adapting to his new surroundings. "Germany, from what I have seen of it, has a lot in common with my home country Denmark, while the people have a very similar mentality."