When he arrived at Palermo in the summer of 2008, Simon Kjær quickly established himself as one of the finest young defenders in the game. Fast forward to 2012 and imagine the surprise to see that his star isn’t as high as it once was.
Proof of this can be found in the rather strong hint that Roma director, Walter Sabatini, dropped at the start of February 2012 concerning a permanent deal at Roma for Kjær that may not happen given his poor performances for the club.
This is a player who once had the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Juventus gawking at him. Now, Roma are thinking twice before signing him. What has gone wrong for Kjær over the last couple of years?
First off, all the rave reviews Kjær got in his Palermo days were very well deserved. The Denmark international put in one impressive performance after another in the heart of their defense. Key to this is his great strength in the air. Kjær, since 2009, has won 65.5%* of his aerial duels, averaging 1.5 per game.
Another strength Kjær has is an excellent positional sense. He has been dribbled by opponents a mere .6 times per game over the last 3 years. In addition, he is great at blocking shots from the opposition. This season alone, he averages .7 blocks per game. He is great at relieving pressure on his defence as well; he has averaged an impressive 6.8 clearances per game since 2009. He is also very effective in a backline that utilises the offside trap. Kjær has won an average of 1.2 offsides per game since 2009.
Kjær’s strengths show that there is indeed something special about him. So what’s the problem, then? Why did he flop at Wolfsburg and is now flopping at Roma?
As was mentioned, his positional play is quite good, evidenced by the fact that players rarely go past him. However, Kjær has collected an amazing 20 yellow cards and 2 red cards in the last 3 years. That is a terrible disciplinary record. What is responsible for this?
Kjær is very, very rarely dispossessed, as a per game average of .1 over the past 3 years confirms. He also rarely gives the ball away, as a per game average of .3 over the same period indicates. However, Kjær, as talented as he is, has continuously made the same mistake: he lets opponents play. Kjær’s tackles per game average of 1.9 as well as his low interceptions per game average of 1.8 over the last 3 years indicate a problem when it comes to pressuring the opposition when the ball is at their feet.
He tends to back off the opposition when they run at him with the ball and allow passes to be played around him. Only when his opponents are close to his goal does he take action. His aforementioned stats for clearances and blocks per game prove this. However, even though these stats are impressive, when backing off his opponents, Kjær doesn’t always make the saving clearance or block. Indeed, there have been times when goals were scored simply because he allowed the situation to unravel rather than deal with it early.
His fouls per game average of 1.1 over the last 3 years isn’t too bad, but his massive card tally over the same period indicates that when he does foul, it’s in a dangerous area of the field (as a result of him allowing opponents to bear down on his goal), resulting in a card, and/or more crucially, a goal-scoring opportunity.
The fact that his positioning is good, he is good in the air, and rarely gives the ball away suggests that he has the talent to be an accomplished defender. However, poor judgment has seen him become a liability every time he plays. This problem, although it existed, wasn’t outstanding at Palermo. However, it became increasingly conspicuous at Wolfsburg, who played terribly as a unit last season, and is persisting at Roma, who have their own struggles this season as well. It is understandable, then, why Kjær fell out of favor in Germany and looks set to miss out on a permanent deal at Roma.
Good decision-making is vital, especially in defense. If Kjær keeps allowing his opponents to play around him, his star will continue to fall. It already has over the last 2 seasons and shows no current signs of stopping its rapid descent.
He has a lot of qualities that would make him a great defender. Hopefully, he can sort this problem out and allow those qualities to shine through for a change. Once he does that, Europe’s biggest clubs will take notice of him once again.
*- Stats courtesy of whoscored.com