Sitting in a UEFA Champions League qualification spot at the halfway stage of the season, things couldn't be going any better for Hertha Berlin and star striker Salomon Kalou.
The Ivorian made a tentative start to his Bundesliga career after moving to the German capital in 2014, but has hit the ground running in the current campaign and played a major part in Pal Dardai's charges being recognised as the surprise package of the season so far.
Speaking ahead of the Bundesliga restart, the 30-year-old discussed Bundesliga players past and present that have inspired him, his beneficial return to regular goalscoring form and the club's outside shot at appearing in Europe's premier club competition.
bundesliga.com: What brought you to the Bundesliga? What was it about Hertha Berlin?
Salomon Kalou: It’s a club with a huge history. There is a lot of history still to write as a player because the team hasn’t won that many trophies. So if I manage to succeed with the club and win trophies then my name will be written in the history of the club. That’s what challenges are about; you have to push yourself always - to go for the bigger challenge. When I joined Chelsea they had never won the Champions League. Then we won the Champions League and our names are now in their history books forever and that’s what I’m looking to do here.
bundesliga.com: You mention the Champions League win with Chelsea which was, of course, at FC Bayern München’s expense. Are there any Bayern players in the current squad or maybe other players from Bundesliga history that influenced your decision to come to the Bundesliga?
Kalou: Oh yeah of course, especially when you watch a player like Arjen Robben, who I played with at Chelsea and for me is a wonderful player. It was and is always a pleasure to watch him play or to play against him. Less to play against him (laughs), but to watch him play is always a pleasure. And I think the fact that he came here to join such a big club like Bayern and consistently play his best football, I admire his skill, I admire the way he plays.
bundesliga.com: If you could name five players, who are the Bundesliga players throughout history that have inspired you?
Kalou: There are a lot of them, but I’ll name the ones that stay in the mind. Obviously [Robert] Lewandowski for sure, Robben, [Giovane] Elber from Bayern a long time ago. That’s three, so two more. Stephane Chapuisat from Dortmund, he was a great striker, and I’m going to say [Matthias] Sammer because he’s only the second defender to ever be named the world’s best player.
bundesliga.com: You have been playing some of your best football for several years this season. What conditions do you need to be at your most dangerous?
Kalou: I arrived last year and it was my first experience of the Bundesliga. I was playing in a new team with a couple of new players. This year I’ve had the time to settle with the team, to do the training camps with them and I’m used to playing with them. That’s also helped me to play at my best this season.
bundesliga.com: You already have nine goals this season, more than you got in the whole of the 2014/15 campaign. Do you have a figure in mind that you would like to hit this term?
Kalou: I work using a team objective. For me it doesn’t matter if I score more, as long as we as a team achieve our goals – that’s what matters. This year we have the opportunity to qualify for European Competition, so for me that’s more important than the number of goals I score.
bundesliga.com: What has changed at Hertha since Pal Dardai took over?
Kalou: I think the fact that there were a couple of new players. Sometimes when you come into a new environment where maybe the situation at the time wasn’t so good, you don’t have time to settle in the team. When the new coach came in there were a lot of changes and also the fact that we were finally a team, playing regularly and progressing every game. That’s important because last year we were changing a lot of different players every game. We also had a couple of players injured, but this year we have everyone. We’re playing consistently good football. The philosophy of the coach also helps, so all those little small things together make us a good team.
bundesliga.com: You have won the UEFA Champions League before, so how much does getting back into the competition motivate you?
Kalou: I think it’s the most exciting competition in Europe and playing in the Champions League is like a platform for every player to show your skills and compare yourself to other players, so for Hertha it’s an amazing opportunity to promote our football and the way we play. Also, our fans want to see us play against big teams so I think everyone is motivated to achieve that goal together. But we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves; we should continue to play with the free mindset we’ve had since the beginning of the season. We have 17 games left now and if we manage to do well we can play in the most exciting competition in Europe.
bundesliga.com: What’s the feeling in the Hertha camp? Are you aiming to qualify for the Champions League?
Kalou: Everyone has it at the back of their minds. As a player it’s the highest ambition you can have. As I said, it shouldn’t be a pressure; it should be a motivation. I think that’s what the training camp is about, you have to prepare yourself mentally and physically to compete at a high level in order to achieve your goals. Our game is going well… and we’re trying to get back to competition level again and get into the habit of winning. As long as we keep that mindset I think we have a good chance of achieving our goals.