It wasn’t signed, sealed and announced as Pete Sixsmith succumbed to the editor’s pressure and wrote his customary piece welcoming an ostensibly smart and necessary new signing. It is now (see the official announcement at safc.com)*. We don’t often get to bring in players from one of the best two or three teams in Europe so it feels quite a special moment in Sunderland history …
A warm Wearside welcome to Jan Kirchhoff, who joins Sunderland from Bundesliga Champions and current leaders Bayern Munich. He arrives to bolster our options in the middle of the back four and has turned his back on domestic and European glory to help us avoid visits to Huddersfield, Blackburn and Preston next season – which shows that Germans DO have a sense of humour.
Jan is a big lad, as Eddie Waring used to say, being 6ft 5in tall, which suggests he is more of a Metersacker than a Helmer and that he should be useful when trying to combat the aerial power of Jamie Vardy and Stephane Sessegnon.
He is also described as “possessing good passing skills”, something we have not seen in a central defender since Stan Varga’s home debut against Arsenal.
His career has been troubled by injury but he has a good pedigree. He started at FSV Mainz 05, signing just after Jurgen “softie boots” Klopp left for Borussia Dortmund, and he became a regular in their side as they cemented their place in the German top flight.
Mainz is an ancient city on the banks of the Rhine. It has a superb Gothic cathedral and is the home of Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented movable type and thus created the printing industry. He would have done it earlier but the cartridges kept running out.
Kirchhoff left the Rhineland for Bavaria, signing for Bayern Munich in 2013, just as Pep Guardiola took over at the Allianz Arena. His career was clearly on an upward path and he hoped to change the 18 Under 21 caps he had won for Germany into full caps as he claimed a place in the Bayern starting X1.
That he didn’t appears to be more down to frustrating injuries than any lack of ability. He went to Schalke 04 in Gelsenkirchen on loan and stayed there for 18 months, first of all under Roberto Di Matteo and latterly under Andre Bretenreiter and he returned to Munich for the start of the second half of the Bundesliga season.
However, our scouting staff, renowned for its skill in finding central defenders (Kyriagos, Diakite, Roberge, Kilgallon, Mangane) identified him as a potential recruit and it seems that Bayern had no problems in allowing him to swap a week in Doha for 18 months at the Stadium of Light.
#SAFC are delighted to announce the signing of centre-back Jan Kirchhoff from @FCBayernEN! #WelcomeJan pic.twitter.com/W92Lwo3kkR
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) January 7, 2016
The contract is an interesting one and suggests that should we fail to pull off the Great Escape Vol 4, he may well be free to seek other employers at the end of this season.
We have not had a great deal of luck with German players at Sunderland. Thomas Helmer was also a top class central defender but he played only twice for the club, before Peter Reid decided “his legs had gone” – this was after he had completed a successful loan period at Hertha Berlin.
The other German player we signed was centre forward Thomas Hauser, two inches shorter than Jan Kirchhoff and probably not quite as good. He was signed by Dennis Smith and stayed with us for two-and-a-half years, spending much of his time on the bench. I remember taking some German exchange students to the shows at Seaburn and we saw Thomas and his girlfriend on the dodgems.
He came over and spoke to the youngsters we had with us and showed himself to be a thoroughly decent man. Just not a very good footballer…….
Jan will have little time to settle in. He is unlikely to play at Arsenal but could well be in the squad at Swansea and Spurs and will probably play in at least one of them as our creaking central defenders are unlikely to be able to play three times in a week.
Welcome to Sunderland Jan and we hope that it is a positive experience for you – although I wouldn’t bank on it……
* Check out the club site at http://www.safc.com/news/team-news/2016/january/black-cats-sign-kirchhoff
Big Sam says: “Jan has a very good pedigree and even though he is still relatively young he has experience of football at the highest level, including the UEFA Champions League. He has real versatility as a player, being comfortable in both the centre back and midfield roles. He is desperately keen to experience the Premier League and our job now is to do everything we can to help him settle and adapt quickly to life in English football, so he can have a positive impact on our squad.”