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Interview (part 2): Roker Report meets... ex-Sunderland & Bayern Munich midfielder Jan Kirchhoff

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We met up with former Sunderland midfielder Jan Kirchhoff in Magdeburg, Germany for a fascinating discussion about his entire time on Wearside - the highs, the lows and everything in between.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - EFL Cup Third Round Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

RR: We went into pre-season as fans in a great mood, and then England lost to Iceland... how did the team react and how was it for you personally?

JK: At the beginning it was okay, we are professionals and you go through these periods.

We all knew Sam and being the manager for the national team is like his dream role, so nobody blamed him for that. We were gutted, but we did understand it, it’s just the business of football.

RR: He left the pre-season game against Hartlepool at half-time, did the players know he was going and did he talk to any of you personally?

JK: Not me personally, no, but it [Allardyce going to England] was in the news and he spoke to Jermain and John in private, where they came back and told the team about it. You can’t do anything until it’s official, though.

When it did happen, he came and said bye to the players and he explained his decision.

RR: Were you annoyed the FA dragged it out for so long though?

JK: You still always have time to build a team and can make plans, though.

I know Sam wanted to sign certain players permanently and he wanted to bring other players in and build a team despite this, but I don’t know if the board blocked him or whatever.

Yeah, you can blame the FA for being late, but you still do the job you have to do and in the end we did end up making lots of transfers [under David Moyes] and started building a new team.

Manchester City v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League
From Pep to Big Sam, Jan played under the best two managers of all time in quick succession.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

RR: How much of a mistake was it not signing Yann M’Vila and what exactly happened with that from your knowledge?

JK: Definitely a huge mistake.

I’m not scared to say what I think openly and it was a massive mismanagement that summer of transfers. We spent a lot of money, I read a lot about how we didn’t and how we didn’t have the support of the owner but we ended up spending something like £38 million on players.

We bought players to replace other players. We signed a defender to replace Kaboul, a midfielder to replace Yann, we didn’t sign Yedlin on a permanent. You underestimate what losing senior players like Ola Toivonen and Wes Brown from the squad caused, too.

The squad’s quality dropped from one day to another so drastically and we filled it up with youth players that were talented, but far from ready.

In the end it didn’t work out and we spent loads of money on replacements that were not as good as the players we had let go.

RR: So did Yann want to come back? We all remember the Instagram post...

JK: What I know is he what literally at the airport on the day. He spoke to the club a lot and remained in contact with Younes, Wahbi and Lamine throughout the entire time. He was desperate to come back because, like me, he had such a great time.

You sometimes underestimate players like DeAndre Yedlin, too. From an outside perspective £4.5 million might seem too much for players like him, but he was important. The same with Younes and we let him go so cheap. You can’t explain this.

It got to a point where John [O’Shea] was number one choice again and, nothing bad against John, but he was happy to be back up and we had a central defenders that had done so well just broken up.

The dressing room losing these players changed the atmosphere too and... it just wasn’t good.

RR: What was thoughts on David Moyes then, straight up?

JK: I didn’t have any at the beginning. I just knew him from Everton, Manchester United and a little bit in Spain, so I had no judgement and like you always do in new situations, you go in and have a look. I think the owner wanted someone with a big name and was quite keen on him.

I am far away from blaming anyone because in the end it’s all about coming together as a team, but there was so many smalls things he did that I just didn’t think were right to do. He’d go out in the public interviews and be negative about the team and the players, he also did this inside the club. The atmosphere changed so drastically from positive to negative under him. The freedom we had before was gone. You’d go from having confidence in the team and yourself to questioning yourself and you’d become frustrated. It wasn’t enjoyable to be at the training ground.

Not just the players, but the coaches, the physios - all of it become very negative and yes, I do believe the manager had a lot to do with that.

It was just really basic things like when you bring in a new player to the team, you bring him to the training ground and introduce him, so you know what kind of guy you have in the team. I don’t like certain players being treated differently, you should treat them all the same.

What really made me angry was that he criticized the players in public all the time in newspapers - and that is a weak excuse to point fingers at others. He built the team, he paid the money for the players.

I was about to say, “excuse me, it’s your team and the players showed we are good enough last season, so what changed?”

You just have to get on with it, it shouldn’t be an excuse for a professional footballer to stop playing, you should still perform. But some players didn’t even get a chance to perform like Wahbi and Fabio Borini as they never played - so it all came together.

The atmosphere in the dressing room was toxic, we would have lots of fights.

RR: When we interviewed Steven Pienaar, he said there was lots of ‘groups’ in the squad. Do you agree?

JK: If Steven said that, I totally agree. You can’t bring in a bunch of players who’ve played for you before and treat them differently, it leaves a bad feeling in the dressing room.

RR: What did you make of the comment he wanted more “Britishness” in the squad?

JK: You can argue and say it’s about quality and not where you’re from, but I think he meant to say it like... well, I don’t really know what he meant. Did he mean running more miles per game or what? More specific techniques? Well that’s football quality.

I think what he tried to do was say that to give Sunderland a base, like he’d be applauded for it or something.

Sunderland v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Jan’s second season never got going - why were his injuries treated differently?
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

RR: The six months you played under Sam Allardyce, was that the happiest you’ve been and the best you’ve played in your career?

JK: The happiest, yes, the best I’ve played in my career? I doubt that. I think the best I played was at Bayern, even though I didn’t play so often. The level of playing and training was so high, it challenged you - and those level of quality of players meant I had to be at my peak.

At Sunderland though, I could play more and I felt less pressure, I had a supportive coach, fans and team so I was more loose and just enjoying my football.

RR: So when are you coming back?

JK: I would love to. I still follow Sunderland because I enjoyed it so much.

I really enjoyed living in the North East and if there was an opportunity to come back, I would always consider that.

RR: Did you decide against signing a contract, or were you not offered one?

JK: I was offered one in the summer before Sam left via my agent, then we changed manager.

Then Younes left, Yanni wasn’t signed, Yedlin wasn’t signed and I thought, “hmm, this is going in the wrong direction,” so I wanted to work a little bit with the manager before signing. I got injured though and during that period we all decided to wait a little bit, and I had it in my mind that if the first part of the year went poorly after the signings, I was going to leave.

I had an offer in the winter and I was about to go to Hamburg, but then I injured my knee.

I was about to stay there when Sam was there, I said “give me a contract and I’ll sign it,” but once Sam left, I was just never happen again after that and I decided I didn’t want to sign a contract, but they revoked it anyway because of the injuries.

RR: Finally, is there anything you’d have done differently?

JK: I think I too was negative during the second season and I let the negative surroundings effect me too much. I think maybe I should have broken away from them and had my own thing.

In hindsight, I enjoyed my first six months at the club it was never in my mind to leave, but when you see so many of your team mates leave - I think I should have known where it was going and maybe looked to move. But it is what it is, and those six months where one of the best times I had in football and I didn’t want to miss it, but maybe I should have saw what was happening.

Then again, everything happens for a reason and that following season and what happened taught me so much.

RR: Jan, it’s a been an absolute pleasure.

JK: Anytime, thank you.