Berlin - After the odd teething problem, Hertha Berlin's is beginning to thrive both on and off the pitch in Germany's historic capital.
'Hertha want to keep developing'
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com as part of our Interview of the Week series, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner discusses life in his new German abode, explains what it's like working under Pal Dardai and reveals the handful of fellow professionals he admires most...
bundesliga.com: Salomon Kalou, when you were unveiled at Hertha, you spoke of Berlin in high regard. Now, eight months down the line, how have you found it?
Salomon Kalou: I feel happy, in the city and the team. I've made friends and I'm feeling more and more at home in my surroundings. Getting to know people is the key to settling in well.
bundesliga.com: Are there certain areas of the city you particularly like to visit?
Kalou: I've been to east Berlin more because there are lots of attractions there. I've been to a couple of museums and I really liked the zoo in the western part of the city. It's a really interesting city, there are so many job opportunities here. There's no way you'd ever get bored in Berlin.
bundesliga.com: Rudi Garcia, the former head coach at Lille OSC was quoted as saying that it wasn't easy to convince you to move from Chelsea FC to France. What made you decide on signing for Hertha last summer?
Kalou: After we qualified for the Champions League in my second year at Lille, I had the feeling that we'd achieved all we could. Hertha looked like a good option because the club wants to keep developing and eventually play in Europe again. I'm sure it's possible.
bundesliga.com Have you fulfilled your expectations so far?
Kalou: The Hinrunde wasn't easy, I have to admit. If the season had ended in December, we'd have been relegated. It wasn't a great start to life in Berlin, but since the new coach [Dardai] has come in, we've gotten better. With him in charge, the team defend as one, but also attack when the opportunity presents itself. We're conceding fewer goals now, so on the whole it's working. If we can build on it, we'll be able to achieve more next season.
bundesliga.com: You won the Champions League with Chelsea and are a reigning Africa Cup of Nations champion. Have you found it tough being in a relegation battle for the first time in your career?
Kalou: (laughs) No, not at all. I don't think anything can prepare you for relegation battles anyway. You can only fight and give your best. We're in a difficult situation at the moment, but the club has the potential to do more. We've got a great stadium. On top of that, those responsible, the fans - everyone wants to make progress. We've had some good results recently, I think we're on the right path.
'The Bundesliga is another league'
bundesliga.com: Pal Dardai praised your defensive work. Have you had to make notable changes to your game?
Kalou: (laughs) Yeah, definitely. As a striker you're used to having two or three chances per game, but we're not really creating that many. Here, though, it's not about me and whether I score goals; it's about the success of the team. At the moment, it helps the team if I put in a shift at the back. At some point I'll be rewarded for that with goals, I'm sure.
bundesliga.com: Aren't you disappointed to be scoring less often than, for example, in your last two years in France?
Kalou: It's a completely different situation and the Bundesliga is another league. In the first year in a new league, you first have to get to know the style of play. In the second year, it'll be easier to show your own qualities and meet expectations.
bundesliga.com: Does that mean you're planning to stay at Hertha for the foreseeable future?
Kalou: I signed a three-year deal at Hertha. I like to learn and I'm learning a lot here. The way of working here is completely different. We work extremely hard. I don't think I've ever trained with such intensity.
bundesliga.com: Do you enjoy training, though?
Kalou: Yeah, definitely. Training's hard, but I like it. The players work flat out, that makes it easier.
'Football is a team game'
bundesliga.com: This willingness, the team spirit - is it something you've picked up as one of eleven siblings?
Kalou: Absolutely. Growing up like that, I understood what team spirit was all about. You learn that it's important and good to share with people that are important to you. I had to share my room, food, clothes, loads of things. Football is a team game. I'm in no doubt that every individual can perform better if he knows he's got a good team around him.
bundesliga.com: Have your family visited you in Berlin?
Kalou: Yes, lots. My two brothers [one of whom is former Cote d'Ivoire striker, Bonaventure] and one of my sisters have already come over with their families. My parents are coming soon, too. They've come to see me in every city so far. I'm happy when they're here. I want to share my life with the people that are important to me.
bundesliga.com: Hertha play Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday. With six points between you and the relegation zone and seventh place, is there still something left to play for this season?
Kalou: For sure - we've still got four difficult games. The teams behind us will try to win the rest of their games. We've put a lot into getting up to 13th. Now we want to consolidate our position and maybe climb a bit higher.
'Robben's just outstanding'
bundesliga.com: Can Hertha challenge for Europe next season?
Kalou: We have to take it slowly. Two years ago Hertha were still in Bundesliga 2. The goal this season was to establish ourselves in the Bundesliga, but after that we can aim higher.
bundesliga.com: Do you think the club has the potential to one day qualify for the UEFA Champions League?
Kalou: Despite it being a difficult season, we still get on average 50,000 fans coming to our home games - plenty come on the road as well. We've got a big fan base. At Chelsea, there'd be 40- or 41,000 there on a good day. Once we start picking up good results, the whole club can grow.
It was really special to return with Hertha in the Bundesliga to the place where I enjoyed my greatest triumph. Many great memories came flooding back. That win in that
was the biggest moment of my career. We wrote history back then.
Is the Champions League win even bigger than winning the Africa Cup of Nations?
For me personally, it was the biggest achievement. To give my fellow people the Africa Cup of Nations was, though, the best possible present we could have given them.
Yaya Toure. We were in the same team as kids and I always knew he would one day become one of the best players in Africa. He didn't always like to show it in training, but he's a completely different player on the pitch. No other player understands the game like he does, he really knows how to work the space. All his teammates gain something from playing with him.
Hertha's Ronny has also made a big impression...
a lot, he's a fantastic footballer. I've never seen anyone with such a hard shot. I've played with lots of players, but no one hits a ball like he does.
Who's your favourite Bundesliga player?
! I've been a huge fan of his since my time in Holland. Back then he was playing for PSV [Eindhoven] and I was at Feyenoord [Rotterdam]. Later on we played together for a year at Chelsea. He's just outstanding.
Salomon Kalou was speaking to Felix Seaman-Höschele