One of Salomon Kalou’s best memories of Germany will be as a Chelsea player, when he helped the Blues win the 2012 UEFA Champions League final in Munich. Six years later and now at Hertha Berlin, the Ivorian is continuing to trouble Bundesliga defences.
Kalou was left out of Hertha’s team for their Matchday 27 visit to Hamburg but he responded in the best possible way – coming off the bench to net the winning goal. It meant that the 32-year-old reached double figures for the second time in three seasons, having now scored five more league goals than anyone else at Hertha this term.
“We had to win that game, even though they had to as well,” Kalou said after the 2-1 success in Hamburg. “All I had to do for the goal was tuck home Arne Maier’s really good pass. I’m so pleased he got his first assist, that I got another goal and we got back to winning ways.”
While Kalou was modest after the fact, many of his strikes this season have been vital. Hertha have won five and drawn four of the Bundesliga matches that he has scored in.
In general, his reaction to being left out could serve as an example to many players. In December, he came on against Augsburg with 11 minutes remaining to net an injury-time equaliser, and three days later he scored a brace when he was restored to the starting line-up for Hertha’s 3-1 win over Hannover.
“Angry is not the word,” he said after the Hannover match, when discussing previously being omitted from the team. “I think I was disappointed because, [like] every professional, you want to be on the pitch and play. But I think my answer is always going to be on the pitch. It’s how you react after all that and I think it was a good reaction.”
The Hertha number eight is not as prolific as other African strikers that have played in the Bundesliga, such as Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ghana’s Tony Yeboah. The latter, aided by playing alongside Eintracht Frankfurt’s Nigerian playmaker Jay-Jay Okocha, was the German top flight’s joint top goalscorer on two occasions in the early 1990s. But there is no doubt that Kalou is one of the best players from that continent to have graced the Bundesliga.
He is also one of the most socially aware players around, as evidenced by his support for Viktoria Berlin youngster Balla Keita, a compatriot of Kalou’s who arrived in the German capital as an unaccompanied minor in 2016.
“For a kid from Africa, hope can make you achieve your dream,” Kalou told espnfc last year. “For me it is important to keep hope alive. To give hope to those kids and tell them about my experiences. You need to be positive and give a lot of your time to other people. Make the difference in other people’s life.
“When you do good in life, it will come back to you. Every time I speak to any young player, I tell them to be positive and wait for the moment. We all get our moment, and then, when your moment arrives, you need to capitalise on it.”
Along with his teammates, Kalou was also happy to show solidarity with NFL players’ protests against racism by “taking a knee” before the Old Lady’s home game against Schalke last October.
On the pitch, the nimble attacker’s achievements are all the more noteworthy given that in two of his four years in Berlin, his season was disrupted by his country’s involvement in the Africa Cup of Nations. In 2015, he helped the Ivory Coast win the tournament for the first time in 25 years, and since then at club level he has helped Hertha finish seventh and sixth in the Bundesliga.
His best return in Berlin was the 14 league goals he got in the 2015/16 campaign – a third of the club’s total that season. In 2016/17, meanwhile, a top-six finish saw Hertha earn a return to the group stage of European competition for the first time in eight years.
Kalou got a hat-trick in each campaign, scoring a treble against Hannover in November 2015 after being patched up for a head injury, then hitting all the goals in a 3-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach a year later, soon after losing his father and aunt. No wonder, then, that Hertha were keen for him to sign a new three-year deal in March 2017.
“Salomon is a real champion,” Hertha boss Pal Dardai said at the time. “He's won everything, but despite that he is still hungry for more. He is a model professional and a great example for all players.”
Watch: See Kalou's hat-trick against Gladbach from the 2016/17 campaign
Playing in the UEFA Europa League took its toll on Hertha in the first half of the 2017/18 season, but Kalou has always believed that Dardai’s squad have it in them to produce top performances.
“We have so many players with quality who can play football,” he said after the drawn game against Augsburg in December. “It’s a pity that every time we go long ball, long ball. It’s easy for the other team because they just have to play the second ball and counter and try to score the goal. “I think we have to do better. If we want to win games, we have to start playing football.”
When Hertha do get motoring, Kalou is usually involved. In a squad perhaps greater than the sum of its parts, only Germany international Marvin Plattenhardt has played more Bundesliga matches than him this season. Kalou’s goal against Hamburg means he has scored over 30 times for the club since joining from Lille in 2014, and the Ivorian will now be keen to drive them on to another top-half finish.