When Jurgen Klinsmann tries to sell you on a move, you tend to listen, especially if he is the man in charge of your national side.
Hearts’ new signing Perry Kitchen has already been capped for the USA but he wants to add to the tally. So, when he was presented with the chance to swap Washington DC’s Capitol building for Scotland’s capital city, he had few reservations and any he did have were quickly dispelled by the USA manager and former Germany striker.
“I spoke with Jurgen Klinsmann 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.
“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 into account.”
But he wasn’t the only person whose opinion was canvassed before Kitchen put pen to paper.
“I know of Hearts – if you play soccer you know who Hearts are. But I had to research the finer details. My agent used to represent Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu, so he talked to them. They loved their time here in Scotland. Obviously they were at Rangers, but they loved it here and that was very encouraging for me to hear.”
Having tried his hand at basketball and athletics as a kid, “soccer” was always his preferred sport but to advance his career and earn the chance to add to his three international caps, he felt it was important to move continents.
“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 [in Scotland] 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.”
A defensive midfielder, he is renowned for his workrate and tough tackling, and believes he is perfectly suited to the physicality, pace and hurly burly of the Scottish game. He is also ready for the rivalries, having spent the past four seasons at DC United, where head-to-heads with New York Red Bulls were occasionally marred by crowd trouble.
“Yeah, DC and New York do not get along. The fans anyway. In terms of a rivalry I’d compare it to Hearts v Hibs. But those games playing against [Thierry] Henry and [Tim] Cahill are games I will always remember.
“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.
“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.”
But with his contract ending at DC, he was ready for a new challenge. There was more money on offer to stay in the USA but Kitchen is at a stage of his career where he is looking for more that financial remuneration.
“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 basis behind my decision. I think this is a great place for me to do that. The more I looked into it, everything lined up in what I want out of the club. It seemed like the right fit and right timing.”
Seeing the club sitting third, with a chance to try to build on that next term was certainly one incentive, the lure of Europa League football in his first full season at the club was another.
“Exactly. That’s huge too. If we continue doing well that will be a great competition to be in,” said the 24-year-old, who has been described as a team player by former coaches, who see him as a humble, no-nonsense professional who is free of ego.
Offering credence to that analysis, Kitchen is uncomfortable summing up his own talents. “I don’t enjoy talking about myself. I’ll leave that to you guys. But 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.”
For him, the Scottish Premiership is a step up but one he is ready for.
“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. It’s about the opportunity. It’s about playing in Europe and getting better and hopefully that leads to better things.”
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