When the news emerged earlier this year that Jan Kirchhoff was set to sign for fellow Championship strugglers Bolton Wanderers, it was like a dagger to my heart.
Of course, we’re all well aware of why Jan Kirchhoff was in a position whereby he was still looking for a new club eight months after being released by Sunderland, but nonetheless it was still difficult to stomach. In my time supporting this club there have been very few midfielders classier than Jan playing in the red and white shirt, and the way his time here ended can only really be viewed as disappointing.
My immediate thought was “why aren’t we back in for him? If Bolton are prepared to give him a contract, then so should we” - but, of course, football doesn’t quite work like that.
Though Kirchhoff is undoubtedly a top Premier League player when he’s fit and firing, those days don’t come around often and Bolton knew they were taking a gamble when they handed him a short-term contract. If it worked out, they were getting a player capable of running games at ease at this level, but if it didn’t they never really lost anything as he came into their squad late-on in the season.
So even whilst I was secretly hoping that Kirchhoff wouldn’t find success at Bolton, I’d be lying if I didn’t at least admit that I wanted to find out how he had got on with the Trotters. As such, I collared our mates from over at top, top Bolton Wanderers blog ‘Lion of Vienna Suite’ to find out the crack, and whether the big German was able to replicate his early Sunderland form during his brief stint with the Greater Manchester club.
RR: I think it’s safe to admit that most Sunderland fans couldn’t help but look on as Bolton signed Jan Kirchhoff with a sense of envy, and anger at how such a fine player wasn’t able to stay fit during our final season in the Premier League. What was the reaction like when you guys nabbed him?
Lion of Vienna Suite: Most fans saw the move as a bit of a coup, mainly due to the glowing opinions of the Sunderland fans. He’d obviously struggled with injury, but fans were optimistic he could make a difference.
RR: ... And has he managed to stay fit?
Lion of Vienna Suite: Sadly, no. He signed at the end of February, made his debut in March and missed the last six games of the season. Kirchhoff only played four times, totalling 184 minutes.
RR: What importance - if any - did he have in your last-gasp survival from relegation?
Lion of Vienna Suite: Aside from the positive messages on social media, Kirchhoff missed the last gasp survival. Perhaps his experience was beneficial on the training ground.
RR: How did he look in the games that you saw from him - did he stand out as much as he did in the Premier League?
Lion of Vienna Suite: He mostly impressed in his four appearances, with a stand out performance against Reading in March. That game he looked like a player who belonged in the Premier League. Sadly, we didn’t see that enough.
RR: Do you think you’ll hang onto him or will he be allowed to leave?
Lion of Vienna Suite: I think it’ll come down to whether or not he can keep fit. I think it’d be great to have a player of Kirchhoff’s calibre, but it won’t be worth it if he’s going to be spending lengthy spells on the sidelines. Maybe the club will give him a chance in pre-season and decide after that.
RR: Overall, how do you view Kirchhoff having seen him this season?
Lion of Vienna Suite: A player who would be playing in the top flight if not for injuries. The quality shone in patches, but he missed more games than he played.
So, there we have it. As sad as it is to say, Kirchhoff’s time with Bolton probably went as many predicted - he stood out in the games he did feature in, but ultimately he wasn’t able to stay fit enough in order to have a massive impact - although the Trotters did stay up right at the death, and it is possible that he was a calming influence amongst the squad behind the scenes.
From our perspective it’d be great to see Jan kick on from here, get over his injury problems and earn himself another deal in England, whether that be with Bolton or someone else. He never let Sunderland down on the pitch and that shows in the good feeling that many of us have for him, even despite the fact he was missing for large periods due to fitness issues.