When you’re a young, ambitious, and a footballing God like Jurgen Klismann offers advice, you listen. Perry Kitchen had the sense to do just that when the USA national coach told him to join Hearts.
Klinsmann’s status in the game is legendary as a World Cup and European Championship winner who managed Germany and Bayern Munich before taking charge of the United States.
Although he exists against the most glamorous backdrop, he proved surprisingly knowledgeable on affairs at Tynecastle when Kitchen asked for his thoughts on a move to Edinburgh. Keen to enhance his international prospects, the American midfielder admits Klinsmann’s recommendation was the final confirmation he needed.
“I spoke with Jurgen and he was very supportive. He said that Hearts are a great side and that, ‘it will be a great move for you’. He was the most encouraging person I spoke to in terms of his support about this decision,” explained Kitchen, who signed a two-and-a-half-year contract on Wednesday.
“He knew a lot about Hearts, I was very impressed. He said great things about the club and great things about how it’s run, how the team are doing. It was very positive and encouraging.
“Hearing that confirmed my initial feelings that I had about coming here. When you have his support, you have to take it into account.”
Kitchen is expected to make his debut at Dens Park tomorrow as his European career begins in earnest. He left DC United believing a switch across the Atlantic Ocean would serve his career better.
He hopes Klinsmann will attend a Scottish Premiership ground soon. The German is known to advocate European-based players over those playing Major League Soccer in America.
“I’m not sure, if I’m doing well it’s a possibility [he will visit],” said Kitchen, who has three full caps to date. “That [international football] is important but it’s about growing my career and continuing to better myself as a player. I think this is a great place for me to do that.”
The 24-year-old rejected a huge salary package to stay at DC United this season. He had other options in Denmark and Germany but chose to join Hearts after hearing what Klinsmann had to say.
“This is the best one and this is why I’m here. I’m not going to be concerned about what could have happened or what might have happened.
“It wasn’t about the money, if it was I wouldn’t be here. It’s about the opportunity, it’s about bettering myself and my career and seeing how far I can take it. That was the basis behind my decision.
“The MLS and DC United have been great to me but there’s just something about being in Europe. This is the biggest sport here, whereas in the States you have American football, basketball, baseball. All the fans are following this which is great to see and it’s something I’m not entirely used to but it’s very exciting for sure.”
Is Tynecastle a stepping stone to a higher level? “It’s definitely a possibility,” he replied. “That doesn’t come unless I do well here and move forward here but that could come. I just want to better the team. They’re in a good way now – sitting in third and closing in on second and first. It’s been a great season for them. I’m looking to achieve good things here. I’ll be a guy that will work for his team-mates, a guy that has a winning mentality and a guy that you want to play alongside.”
He talks like he doesn’t take any nonsense, an impression reinforced by his preference for black boots over modern multi-coloured versions. And he arrives with a pedigree as someone who became a key figure at DC United and has tested himself against some of world football’s household names.
“There were some great players in MLS. The big names like Pirlo, Lampard, Beckham, when he was there, Henry, Tim Cahill – all very good players.
“I think my favourite rivalry was DC v New York. In terms of a rivalry I’d compare it to Hearts v Hibs. Those games playing against Henry and Cahill are games I will always remember. DC and New York fans do not get along.
“It was a real experience coming up against Thierry Henry. He’s just a top, top player. One moment you think you’ve got him, then the next you are reading ‘Henry’ on the back of his jersey and he’s gone.”
With the prospect of Europa League football with Hearts next season, Kitchen still considers Scottish football a step up from the MLS. “I think so, yes. It’s about the opportunity. It’s about playing in Europe and getting better and hopefully that leads to better things.
“It’s a physical game in the MLS, it’s athletic. It’s 100 miles per hour and I definitely think experiencing that will help me in Scotland. The Europa League is huge too. If we continue doing well, that will be a great competition to be in.”