The National spoke to Sevilla’s Danish international defender Simon Kjaer, 29, ahead of Sunday’s Seville derby against Real Betis.
Simon Kjaer Q&A: It's important Sevilla prove in the derby we are the strongest team in the city
Describe the Seville derby.
It’s the biggest game of the year, even if you compare Madrid and Barcelona at home.
The heat is going up day by day, it's what people have been talking about. I played two [derbies] last year and though I scored twice, unfortunately didn’t get a win. I’ve played many big derbies and this is among the best.
People live for football in Seville and we have amazing fans with a lot of passion. The best way to make them happy is to get three points in the derby.
We’re playing for more than three points though, we’re playing to show who is the strongest team in the city and I have never been in any doubt that it’s Sevilla. The history shows that and it’s important that we demonstrate that. A win would give the club a lot more energy.
You joined Sevilla in 2017. How would you describe your first year at the club?
Sevilla had a strange season last year. We reached the quarter finals of the Uefa Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. We reached the Copa del Rey final, but when you have three coaches and two sporting directors in the same season it means that something has not been going well.
Personally, I was struggling with injures and was not satisfied with my performance, even though I played some of my best football of my career against Barcelona at home and Manchester United away.
We have a strong team and day-by-day we are evolving the new system with the new coach. It’s looking good so far and will get better and better. And so will I.
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You mentioned some of the other derbies. Can you give specific examples?
Well, in Rome it’s intense, like Seville, but here’s a big difference of stadium. In Rome’s Olimpic stadium the fans are far away and it doesn’t have the same impact as here in Sevilla or at Betis where you are close to the pitch. It’s not easy to have a conversation during the game because the volume is so loud.
We played against Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid last year, but the derby is different, the pressure is more. You can feel the difference, the hatred. It’s one of the greatest things that I’ve experienced in my career, one of the things I love about football.
The pressure motivates me so much to do well for the team. I can feel how much it means for the people in Sevilla.
In Turkey there’s even more hatred than in Seville, but Seville is the best derby I’ve played in Europe. If someone in the world wants to watch an intense derby, Seville would be the one.
In Turkey, Istanbul is a fantastic place, but La Liga has a much higher level than Super Liga in terms of speed and quality. It’s the highest league I’ve played in. There’s no team who doesn't know how to play football and you’ll be punished if you’re not 100 per cent. If you are not ready you will look bad.
Can Sevilla win La Liga?
Sevilla have won the Europa League five times, but to win La Liga is different. There’s a big difference in budget [compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid]. They have two guys making the same salary as the whole of the Sevilla team. That means a lot in terms of quality and getting players.
To win La Liga would be unbelievable, but very difficult because of the quality. In Europe, Spanish teams dominate and have won eight or nine out of 10 of the last Champions Leagues and dominated the Europa League too.
We beat Man United last season. We had 100 per cent confidence [to win]. We believed we were a much better team in terms of football.
In terms of PR and money, the Premier League is another level, but in terms of quality of football, La Liga is the best in the world. It would be very hard to win the league, but then Leicester won the Premier League …
Were you surprised to beat Manchester United?
I was injured in the first leg at home and while we knew they had big name players, in terms of how they worked as a team – we played better. Better football. Better offensively. Better defensively.
At Old Trafford [in the second leg], we knew if we played well we would beat them. They were not in a good shape at that moment.
They didn’t really get the full potential out of their players and still haven’t. We were the better team over two games. It’s not always about how much they are paid if they don’t work as a team.
What is your aim for this season?
My ambition this season is to finish as high as possible, to qualify for the Champions League and finish in the top four in the league. I came here to play in the Champions League and want to be back in it.
In the Europa League, we got through to the group stage and want to go all the way there and try and win it. With our history we have to try and repeat that. Sevilla is Uefa-ranked No 6 and we want to get back in the Champions League.