EXCLUSIVE | Thilo Kehrer: ‘Wherever I have gone, the objective is winning titles.’

18 months after leaving Ligue 1, Thilo Kehrer (27) is back. In an exclusive interview with Get French Football News, the German international discusses his exit from Paris Saint-Germain, his time at West Ham United, his integration at AS Monaco and his plans for the future.

How have you found your integration at AS Monaco? It isn’t necessarily easy changing club mid-season…

Indeed, changing clubs mid-season is always a bit particular. That’s why it was important for me to get as much information as possible, and to have as many exchanges as possible with the manager, with the club, and with the management. Since my arrival, it has gone pretty much 100% as I would have wanted. My integration into the group has been pretty quick. It helps that I already spoke the language. Having played at different clubs in different countries means that adapting to different situations and different teams is a quality that I have. I was really well welcomed by everyone who works here. Since I arrived, I’ve tried to repay that with performances on the pitch. 

The language element must help a lot, especially at a multilingual club like Monaco…

It helps a lot. It’s actually one of the reasons that I decided to come here. It was one of the reasons why Monaco recruited me too in the January transfer window. It can only help! 

After your spell at PSG, did you have a desire to return to Ligue 1 and, coming back to France’s top-flight, do you feel as though the league has changed at all? 

Yes. The experiences that I had at PSG helped me enormously in terms of personal development and as a professional player. The experiences that I had in these four years, I’ll take them with me. It was also a reason for coming here, not one of the most important ones, but having a knowledge of the league, the different aspects of it, and the playing styles, gave me more information and knowledge about how you experience the games on the pitch, so that made me want to come back to Ligue 1. 

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In terms of the difference in the league between leaving and returning, there aren’t too many things that have changed. Of course, football evolves, it’s always dynamic; few things remain 100% the same.

Is there a bitter taste about how it ended at PSG having been put in the ‘loft’ and do you find that this practice, which has been widely denounced, is unfair to players and their well-being?

There is that side of football. There is more competitiveness, more games and financially the game is growing and it is becoming more of a business. It isn’t a situation that you like to experience and that isn’t viewed positively. For a player, for his mentality, for his confidence, you always want to be wanted, to be respected, to be valued and when that isn’t the case and you find yourself in a ‘loft’, of course, you’re not necessarily in a good place. You can say as well that it isn’t a personal choice, it’s often a club’s choice that wants to create or to change a team, so change players, to change the club’s or the team’s style. As a player, you have to do whatever is best for you. 

Arriving at PSG at the age of 21, did your passage at the club make you the player you are today? 

During my years at PSG, I developed a mentality of arriving somewhere or playing in a team with the objective of winning titles. Of course, it isn’t the same thing in all clubs in all contexts, but I have found myself in teams with lots of potential and so wherever I have gone, including here, the objective is winning titles. 

How do you evaluate your time at West Ham United? 

I had a good time at West Ham, even if it was just one-and-a-half years, I really enjoyed the people, the club, the mentality, the supporters, my teammates and everyone with whom I worked. It was a particular atmosphere with lots of professionalism and an appreciation for football and for the competition that is incomparable with other countries. People’s perceptions of players are different than in other countries, it is really something that I like in England. We had difficult periods, but in the Europa Conference League, we won a big title and wrote history for the club, after so many years without a title and so many years that the club was so far away from even thinking about a title. When you see West Ham today, it is no longer the same club, or it is but it is seen in a completely different light. There is pride in having helped create that with my teammates and the staff. 

How did you experience that final against Fiorentina, having already played in a major European final (PSG v Bayern Munich in the Champions League)? 

Having played in the matches leading up to the final, there was a big disappointment in not starting in the final of the Conference League. The more the game approached, the more I managed to change my emotion from frustration and disappointment into something positive and competitive – to want to win with the team and help the team to do it as soon as they counted on me. It was slightly bizarre, even before the match, I had this feeling and the assistant manager told me that I had to be ready to come off the bench because it was possible that the team would need me. But even before that, I had this feeling that I’d have some playing time in the final. When it happened, there was 25/30 minutes left. The final was decided in that time. It was an important phase of the match and I managed to transform my emotions into something positive and put myself at the service of the team. Even if there was disappointment before the match, the joy by the end was even bigger. 

Would you say that that was the crowning moment of your career so far? 

It is difficult to choose one moment; there have been so many special moments and very positive ones with lots of emotions, but it is definitely in the top three. 

The start of the season at West Ham isn’t what you would have wanted. Is it nice to come to Monaco where you are once again at the heart of the project? 

It was a difficult period the last six months not having lots of game time. It has to be said that West Ham is a club where there are often changes in terms of the squad and at the start of this season, there were lots of small injury niggles that meant that I couldn’t start the season as I would have wanted. The team was in place and there was a defined starting XI that was putting in good performances and you have to recognise that as a player, that when a manager puts out a team and that for five or six matches, there are good results, which isn’t easy in the Premier League, it isn’t easy to break into the team.

Photo credit: Luke Entwistle, GFFN

 

You have to be patient and you have to be physically and mentally ready because in football, change can come and I am very happy to have made the change to come here in the winter and discover a style of football that corresponds with my qualities. It’s the project that corresponded most with what I was looking for and corresponded also with what the team here needed. 

You talk about style, are you a player that is more comfortable in a back three or a back four? Adi Hütter has alternated between the two in recent weeks…

I’m flexible, honestly. It’s more about the play style. At West Ham, there were lots of phases of play where you had to know to defend in a low block and it was about tempting teams in and attacking on the counter or with set-pieces or more individual actions in attack. Defending in a low block isn’t necessarily what corresponds with my qualities because I have physical qualities, like speed but also other physical aspects, and also technical abilities with the ball that I had less of a chance to show given the play style. 

Given the attacking capabilities of Monaco’s left-back options, you have to cover a lot of space, but that has seemingly been one of your strengths… 

I have played in different systems, for different managers that often encouraged full-backs to play higher up the pitch. Defenders then have to cover the space, communicate, organise, be flexible and dynamic in their movement and adapt to defending counter-attacks, I had done that for many years so coming here and having a manager who demanded exactly that suited me. 

Was there any pressure coming in at Monaco given that when you arrived, it was a defence that was struggling? 

Not necessarily. I just had the feeling of wanting to bring results and good performances together with the team. When you watch football today, it’s never just a defence that keeps a clean sheet and it’s never just an attack that allows the team to win. It’s an ensemble. Coming here, bringing my experience, and my quality and also making the most of the quality of the team and the players within it, and helping the team win matches, was the goal. 

You speak about experience, you’ve arrived at a very youthful project. Do you feel that you’re one of the more experienced heads in the dressing room and how have you adapted to that?

It’s happened naturally. Of course, when you’re a bit older than the majority of the dressing room when you’ve played at different clubs, in different competitions with world-class players, you’ve experienced things that others in the dressing room have not. The most important thing for me has just been being myself. If you see things or if you have things to say, I say them, always doing so respectfully and for the good of the team and of the individual that I’m speaking to. I feel though that it is appreciated. On the pitch, as a defender, it is natural for me to communicate and be verbal on the pitch to help the team and my personal performance too. 

Would you say you have become more vocal and has Hütter asked this of you? 

He hasn’t asked me to do that, but when we spoke before I signed, he knew and I told him that it would come naturally on the pitch. When he saw that in the opening days, he told me that he liked that and he encouraged it but it’s what the team needs as well. 

Alongside you, you have Wilfried Singo, who is having an exceptional season, how have you found playing alongside him?

I knew him a little bit before coming. We spoke about him with the coach. It’s very positive. He is a very important player for us, someone is having very good and consistent performance over the course of the season, be it in a three-man or four-man defence. He is someone with lots and lots of potential and someone already with a lot of experience, having already played in Italy and now here at Monaco. He is someone, even in terms of his personality, is humble, works calmly and doesn’t allow himself to be distracted. He has his feet on the ground and he is really well-liked.

What is the collective objective between now and the end of the season and how will Monaco reach those objectives? 

The objective is now to qualify for the Champions League. How can we avoid inconsistency? To prepare match by match. To put ourselves into the right context in training, to tell ourselves in training that every match is a final, and to do everything to win. Sometimes you need to do different things to win and adapt to different situations, as a team. That’s the most important thing. 

You said after the Lorient draw that this team lacked guile. What did you mean by that and is it something that the team needs? 

When I say guile, for me is not trying every time to win in the prettiest way or spectacularly or in the cleanest way. You see it with every big team, if the match is close and the team is one goal up, it’s not always thinking about scoring the second, especially in the final minutes of the game. It is about being a bit mischievous, committing fouls in the right parts of the pitch, preventing the opposition from having possession, attacking, having dangerous set-pieces, and creating chances. It is sometimes about keeping the ball, sometimes about pressing, about doing the necessary work. That’s what I meant.

So sometimes it’s about ‘winning scrappily’?

Yes, that’s it. Sometimes, in a season, there are games that need to be won like that. If they aren’t won like that, then you sometimes find yourself conceding late and not winning at all because you’re lacking that [maliciousness]. 

You talk about the objective being a qualification for the Champions League. Given it is such a young team and many of these players have never had an experience of the competition, do you feel a strong desire in the dressing room?

Yes, especially for these young players, it is something they want to do because it is something that will enormously benefit their progression too. It is an experience for young players. I experienced it too and it was very important. It brings an experience and competitiveness that you can’t play just by playing in the league. For me too, of course, it’s special; it’s a privilege and you have to earn it. It is something that I have set as an objective too. 

A strong end to the season could help your chances of featuring for Germany at the Euros too. Is that something that is at the back of your mind? 

I really want to participate in this tournament in Germany. It is something that is very special. I’m trying to do everything possible on a daily basis, in training, and in the matches, to put in good performances and earn that call-up from the coach. 

Looking forward you’re here on a loan deal with an option to make the move permanent, does your future lie at Monaco?

It is something that I am open to, otherwise, I wouldn’t have come here in this way, with the purchase option. We will see how it goes. There aren’t any discussions yet. It’s just the season that matters, the results and the team. The rest will come after.

European qualification would likely make your choice to stay a little bit easier… 

Of course. Even without it, here is a great place to play. It’s a big club with a great project and that is what is important for me. With the potential that we have here, we should have big objectives and we should also target titles, of course. It is never easy and something that you have to work hard to achieve. In the league, in the position that we are in, with the way we are playing, with the potential that we have, we want to qualify for the Champions League. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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