Mange tak, Simon Kjaer

Traditionally, Vikings are known as fierce warriors who laid siege to foreign places, raided their treasures, and colonized them. Times have changed, though. Milan have had a few Vikings in recent years, most notably Ibrahimović, who certainly laid seige to our opponents' goals. But our last Viking, the one his teammates literally named "il vichingo" ('the Viking' in Italian,) while unquestionably a fierce warrior, has been our protector for the last four and a half years. Of course, I am talking about Denmark's national team captain, Simon Kjaer. With his contract up this month, both he and the club decided it was time for him to say goodbye. After years of his strength, leadership, and relentless defending, the very least we could do would be to offer him our gratitude. Mange tak, Simon.

Words cannot express the gratitude for our last Viking.

In January of 2020, Kjaer realized his dream of playing for AC Milan. Little did we know then how much he would bring to us. His road to Milan was an interesting one, as he was originally sought out by Galliani in 2008, but at that point, he was playing for Palermo, and that club was owned by Zamparini, who was notoriously impossible to deal with. It's just as well, though, because Kjaer came to the club when we needed him most. 

Atalanta's reject became our Viking hero.

He joined the club at the same time as Ibrahimović returned, but with so much less fanfare. Which was quite ironic, given their past history. And while Ibrahimović was given so much credit for turning Milan's fortunes around as such a visible and vocal figure, Kjaer became a leader in his own way, bringing leadership to the back line. He was a strong, powerful defender who was great in the air, and read the game well, often helping his teammates, too. However, he was never one to steal the spotlight.

Kjaer was one of Gabbia's first tutors.

Kjaer was not exactly silent, he was often seen talking or even shouting at his teammates on the pitch during matches. His teammates like Gabbia, Leão, and others reported that he would often give them advice, but they were grateful. The most memorable instance for me was when Kjaer was screaming at Tatarusanu toward the end of his lengthy stint deputizing for Maignan and the Romanian keeper was not prone to much movement. We were all Kjaer at that point.

Tatarusanu did not always appreciate Kjaer's leadership, but Kjaer was usually right.

Ironically, during the last Euro Tournament, held in 2021 due to COVID, Kjaer found himself in the spotlight for tragic and unwanted reasons. His Denmark teammate, Christian Eriksen, collapsed in the middle of a match due to cardiac arrest. Kjaer immediately began to administer lifesaving treatment, even before the medics could reach him, and as the team captain, got his players to create a circle around Eriksen for privacy while he was being treated. He was also able to give reassurance Eriksen's wife, who was rightfully distraught. Perhaps even more telling of who he is as a person, he was there for his friend and teammate as he recovered.

Denmark's captain for eight years now, he became an international hero at Euro 2020.

Kjaer's actions that tragic day gained him international hero status, though he did not ask for the attention, and said he just did what needed to be done in the moment. He was given a number of awards, including the UEFA President's Award that year along with the Danish Medical Team. But perhaps the best reward for his actions is that immediately, players began to be trained in CPR and emergency training to have the same skills and the ability he had to help teammates in case of future emergencies. Not only that, but UEFA expanded their training beyond players and are now offering the same type of training to fans at this year's Euro 2024 tournament in Germany. To say that our defender has had an impact on the world of football is a complete understatement.

Kjaer being interviewed at the Ballon d'Or awards in 2021, where he was ranked 18th.

He was also nominated for the Ballon d'Or in 2021, finishing 18th in the world after making the shortlist of top 30 players. He was at the pinnacle of his career, attending the awards Monday night and recognized for his heroics, as well. Then his world came crashing down. On that Wednesday, just two days later, he tore his ACL just five minutes into Milan's win over Genoa. His teammates gave him their full support, but he was unfortunately out for the rest of the season.

Kjaer suffered his own tragedy in November of 2021, and his teammates showed their support.

He still returned to Milanello to train and offer his leadership as Milan won their first Scudetto in 11 years. He was also named Denmark's Male Player of the Year for the second time in his career. As if he needed any more help with the Viking aesthetic, he did not cut his hair or shave his beard for the duration of his injury, until he was able to play again. That didn't happen for eight long months, though, as he finally returned to action in a friendly vs. Olympic Marseille at the end of July in 2022. 

The Viking after raiding Serie A for the Scudetto.

Kjaer's singular competitive goal while at Milan was a last gasp equalizer vs. Manchester United in the Europa League. He had a couple of assists that year, as well. He always made an impact on the pitch, and while many say he was never the same after his ACL injury, they forget all the times he stepped up for us, especially when everyone else was injured. For example, last year, in the Champions League, he almost singlehandedly kept Harry Kane off the scoresheet when we played Tottenham. Even this season, while many fans claimed he was too slow, he assisted Giroud's goal vs. Roma in January, for example.

Kjaer's last gasp goal was epic, and so was his celebration.

But what Kjaer did for Milan on and off the pitch could never be measured in stats or singular performances. For four and a half years, he dedicated himself to this club, and he always gave everything he had, whether in training, on the bench, or on the pitch. He set an example throughout his life, not only as a player, but also as a man, a husband, and a father. As a natural leader, he helped so many of our young players to grow. And while he has captained his national team for eight years, he never sought glory or the armband for himself at Milan. Watching him play his last match and say goodbye was particularly heart-wrenching.

Saying farewell to our last Viking.

He is only one player, one defender. But in losing him, Milan lose so much more than just a strong, experienced, and talented center back. We lose our last Viking, with the type of leadership that only he could provide. He will be missed for his calm yet powerful influence on and off the pitch, knowing exactly what to do in the most tragic moments, knowing how to be angry when the team underperformed, and knowing how to defend the Milan badge with honor. There are simply not enough words to express the gratitude for such an exemplary player and human being. Grazie. Thank you. Mange tak, Simon.

This post inspired by the music of Foo Fighters' "My Hero"

Mange tak, Simon Kjaer Mange tak, Simon Kjaer Reviewed by Elaine on 3:12 AM Rating: 5
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