David Preece: Jan Kirchhoff will come good for Sunderland after iffy debut

Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Sunderland 16-01-2016. picture by. Picture by FRANK REID
Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Sunderland 16-01-2016. picture by. Picture by FRANK REID
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Debuts can come at you like a train that doesn’t stop at the platform on which you’re standing.

You feel them whistle past you at 100mph and before you know it, there’s an eerie calm around, almost is if it never happened.

If he doesn’t come back from this then it won’t be down to the will of the fans

David Preece

Next thing you know, you’re sat on the edge of your bed in an unfamiliar hotel room as you try to piece together the shattered fragments of your pre-match hopes, wondering whether it’s worth unpacking the last remains of your suitcase.

I know exactly what Jan Kirchhoff went through last Saturday, I’ve been there. It isn’t exactly what dreams are made of.

As baptisms go, it was akin to being dipped in acid, but you don’t sign for Bayern Munich if you aren’t a good defender and my money would be on Jan proving his class once he adjusts to English football.

That said, you can’t blame the Premier League’s style of play for his performance because the principles of defending are the same the world over.

Certainly for the first goal, when you’re brought on as an extra defender and you have cover around you as an opponent of the quality of Christian Eriksen strides towards you, the last thing you do is stand prostrate and then dangle a leg in his direction as if it’s a token gesture.

That is not defending. You close them down quickly, lower your centre of gravity and keep your feet moving with a pitter-patter motion like an American footballer ready to engage his onrushing opponent after the snap, ready to move in any direction.

The challenge on Danny Rose is more forgivable. You can see Kirchhoff was trying to block his cross, if in a somewhat clumsily fashion, but you have to be more canny than that inside the box.

What you can excuse is the feeling he’d have felt, as if he’d been thrown into the centre of a hurricane with objects whizzing past him, with a look of complete bewilderment on his face.

He’ll have quickly learned that though life at the top is tough, life at the bottom of the Premier League is even tougher.

First impressions last and if I attempted to be amusing here I’d say his first impression was a bad impression of a defender. Of course, I would never say something like that.

I know how difficult it can be when you’re thrown into the deep end without the armbands of familiarity.

I’ve made six debuts for the eight clubs I’ve played for in my career, with Sunderland and Odense being two I didn’t start games for, and it was in my second full debut at Aberdeen I went rode the Kirchhoff experience.

Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of Mark Viduka and Henrik Larsson driving through my defence, I barely got hands on the ball as we lost 5-0 at Pittodrie.

Looking for some comfort and reassurance, the first thing I did when I arrived back at my hotel was to call my manager at Darlington who had just sold me to Aberdeen, David Hodgson.

The game had been show live on Sky on that Sunday lunchtime I knew he’d been watching.

What I needed was a confidence boost, someone to tell me everything was going to be alright and it wasn’t my fault. That wasn’t what I got.

As he picked up the phone I opened with “Alright, Hodgy. It’s Preecy.”. I wasn’t ready for his reply, which was a good minute of loud belly laughing, culminating in a long drawn out sigh of “Aaaahhh, Preecy lad.”. I’m glad someone had found it funny.

Of course, he wasn’t trying to drag my mood down further. It was definitely one of those “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.’ occasions.

It was a brutal wake-up call of football at a higher level than I was used to.

The crosses were more accurate, with less height and of a faster pace.

The movement of Larsson was so good you’d need a tracking device to mark him, Lubo Moravcik’s passing was so accurate he could’ve been blindfolded and he’d still have made three assists and Mark Viduka’s finishing was so deadly his boots could’ve had flick knives pointing out of their toes. Oh, and we were bad too.

I’d just turned 23 and it was a huge blow to my confidence and that’s probably the biggest battle Jan Kirchhoff will have now.

Not only does he have to convince the Sunderland fans now that he is better than he showed at White Hart Lane on Saturday, he also has to prove to himself that he can come back from this setback.

Through continually fighting my way back into the side after numerous injuries, it took me the best part of four years to begin convincing everyone at Aberdeen, and myself too, I deserved to be playing at that level.

Luckily, I was given the time sand patient to allow handwork and determination to pay off, somewhat.

Although you’ll never be everyone’s cup of tea, no matter how long you say at a club.

I accepted that though as I never really convinced myself but you keep your head down and work hard nonetheless, using that as motivation to become a better player.

For a 25 year old, Kirchhoff hasn’t played an awful lot of first team football, particularly over the last three seasons and there is no doubt he has a reputation as a cultured centre-back who can slot into a defensive midfield role if needed which should see him come good.

It may even be the making of him as a player if you go by the old adage that you learn more in bad times than in good, and proving to Sunderland fans he is better than they think could be the driving motivation.

Criticism and expectations from fans can be harsh. Opinions on Kirchhoff are being based on barely half an hour’s football from him but that is how it is.

Appearing in one terrible film doesn’t necessarily make a bad actor and Kirchhoff will be given other chances to impress.

He’s had a good education at Mainz 05 and Bayern Munich, whilst being part of the German national youth and U21 sides thus far, but at the minute he’s like a university graduate saddled with the debt of a student loan. he now finds himself in the red with Sunderland fans and will have to work had to get back into the black.

He could exactly what the club needs and if he doesn’t come back from this then it won’t be down to the will of the fans, because if anyone wants him to be the saviour and the answer to the team’s defensive woes, it’s them.