Jan Kirchhoff is off to Sunderland to test his skills in England. His injury history may have held back his development, but Sunderland could be getting a good, relatively young defender to help them avoid relegation.
He was once one of Germany's top prospects in defense, but now Jan Kirchhoff is set to move to his fourth club in four seasons. The former Germany U21 player has taken an opportunity outside of his home country to try to revitilize his career, signing an 18-month contract with Sunderland in England's Premier League.
After signing as a free transfer from Mainz, Kirchhoff's career at Bayern Munich did not gone as well as he hoped. His time in Munich only lasted two autumns, for he spent more than half of his Bayern career on loan at Schalke. Injuries prevented him from becoming a consistent player at either club, ankle and achilles issues sidelining him for much of 2014 and 2015.
With six months left on his Bayern contract, Kirchhoff turned down a few opportunities in Germany to pursue a different challenge: Help Sunderland survive the drop in the Premier League for a fourth-straight season. "I am excited for [England] and the new challenge," Kirchhoff said in a kicker interview the German magazine released Wednesday.
A career worth salvaging
His 1.95 meter (6-foot-5) frame may be his most outstanding attribute, but it was his strong tackling and great ball skills that made Kirchhoff part of Mainz's youth revolution. Sharing a midfield with Andre Schürrle and Lewis Holtby for much of his early career, he made 57 Bundesliga appearances with Mainz before he was 23 years old, and his potential garnered the interest of many top Bundesliga teams. He was also the heart of the defense with the Germany U21s before completing a move to Bayern, signing a three year contract and getting an opportunity to work with one of the world's best coaches, Pep Guardiola.
Once a promising young German defender, Jan Kirchhoff will try to revitalize his career with Sunderland
He was never able to convince Guardiola to play more than a handful of minutes - a total of 144 in 12 appearances over two stints with Bayern. When he did play, Guardiola placed him in midfield, where he could use his passing ability to control the play late in matches. That was an attribute Roberto Di Matteo exploited when Kirchhoff was finally healthy with Schalke. He allowed the Italian coach to experiment defensively and keep Schalke competitive in a tough two legs against Real Madrid in the Champions League.
That is the versatility Kirchhoff now brings with him to England. Still just 25 years old, he will try to help Black Cats coach Sam Allardyce improve the worst defense in the Premier League. “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," Allardyce told the Sunderland website. “He has real versatility as a player, being comfortable in both the centre back and midfield roles."
Given his long rap sheet of injuries, Kirchhoff is a player who may not have discovered his ceiling yet. With 19 more matches on Sunderland's fixture list this season, he may have the opportunity to realize the potential that made him one of Germany's best defensive prospects.