Simon Kjaer has described his summer move to Serie A side Atalanta as “a dream”.
The Denmark international admits that he had not expected to leave Sevilla in La Liga but jumped at the opportunity to return to Italy, where he will spend the duration of the 2019-20 campaign on loan.
Kjaer has enjoyed a globetrotting career, having turned out in the top flight in Denmark, Germany, France, Turkey, Spain and Italy, where he has previously spent periods with Palmero and Roma.
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“It is a dream for me to return to Italy - and I am not exaggerating,” he told Goal. “This is the country where it all started for me, in Palermo. Then a few years later I was with Roma for a season-long loan from Wolfsburg, and I always told my agent, Mikkel Beck, that one day I would like to return to Italy.
“I love the country; the culture, the people, the food - the football, which is a great cocktail of passion and tactical masterclass. My wife and I even chose to get married in Italy, so that tells you something.”
Playing in the Champions League is a particular draw for the defender, with Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb to come in the competition.
“European games are always special, and facing English opponents is always extra-special," he said. “Manchester City are surely the favorites of the group, but let's see what we can do.
“It is always the greatest joy in football to be on the biggest stage and measure yourself with the best in the world. No matter if it is with your club in the league or in European games - or if it is with your national team.
“I am looking forward to the challenge of facing Manchester City, but also to be back in Serie A. From my first season abroad with Palermo, I have treasured the Italian passion for and style of football. I would say that I took my education as a defender fromthe Italian way of defending, and it has surely shaped me as a player.
“I can’t wait to be back home in Italian football - and 'home' is exactly how I feel about Italy.”
Although there were big changes at Sevilla over the summer, Kjaer had not necessarily expected to depart.
“It was a turbulent summer in Sevilla, with a new sporting director in Monchi and a new coach in Julen Lopetegui - and a whole new team coming in with 14 or 15 new players. When we started pre-season, there were seven central defenders,” he explained.
“My agent and I had a good meeting with Monchi, and we all agreed that if a good solution for both Sevilla and for myself appeared then we would talk about it. There has been no pressure from Sevilla on me to find another club. It was always up to me, what I wanted to do.
“Lopetegui came to me and told me that he wanted to keep me and to use me. So, of course, I expected to stay in Sevilla, which is a great club. I was ready to take my chance. It was promised to me and I’m sure the coach would have kept his word, but then Atalanta suddenly appeared.”
The lure of a return to Italy proved too much for the 30-year-old to resist.
“In football things sometimes happen very quickly,” he said. “I heard about Atalanta’s interest on Saturday morning, sitting in the car with my family, and suddenly everything went very quickly. This was exactly that unique opportunity that could make me leave Sevilla.
“At the end of the transfer window, some other big clubs were interested, but I still expected to stay. Then I heard about Atalanta and I felt that this would be perfect.
“This is so great for me. Atalanta is a very well organised club, they play some very exciting football - last season scoring the most goals of all teams in Serie A - and they have told me that they have a big role waiting for me. I feel completely ready for that, having enjoyed the best year of my career, starting back at the World Cup.
“Atalanta finished third in Serie A and now face a historic season having qualified for the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. This is exciting and personally it is a fantastic opportunity for me.”
Before a European campaign, Kjaer will focus on his international commitments with Denmark, with matches against Gibraltar and Georgia to come.
The Danes have been on a tremendous run, having last been defeated in 2016, excluding a friendly defeat to Slovakia in which they used a hotchpotch team of amateur and futsal players due to a dispute between their leading stars and the FA.
“I was extremely proud when, as a captain, I led our national team onto the pitch during the World Cup last year in Russia, and I would love to do that again next summer at the Euros,” he said. “For the first time Denmark will face Gibraltar and we know that they only lost 1-0 and 2-0 to Ireland in this qualification group, so we will not underestimate them.
“We are undefeated in our last 28 games and almost three years as a national team and we definitely want to continue that exceptional streak.”