‘You are not immortal… any day could be your last’: Kasper Schmeichel on his life of triumph and tragedy, from the highs of Leicester’s title miracle to the pain of club owner’s helicopter crash and Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest
- Kasper Schmeichel tells Sportsmail about his career and difficult life experiences
- The Leicester keeper saw Christian Eriksen suffer a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020
- His Denmark goalkeeping coach died last year but taught him valuable lessons
- Schmeichel admits his love for Leicester and says he wants to be a one-club man
Kasper Schmeichel’s goalkeeping coach in Denmark used to speak about the importance of valuing every day, every moment. Schmeichel didn’t always know where Lars Hogh was coming from. But he does now.
‘I knew Lars my whole life, from when I was a kid, and he was my goalkeeping coach for Denmark,’ Schmeichel says.
‘He used to say something to me that I didn’t always quite get when I was younger.
‘He used to say that there is a number for everything in life. A number for how many times you get up, how many times you breathe, how many times you walk on to the field, how many times you play.’
Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel has opened up on his life of triumph and tragedy
The Dane has taken valuable lessons from difficult moments in his life, including the death of his former Denmark goalkeeping coach and Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha
He was first on the scene when Vichai’s helicopter crashed outside the club’s stadium in 2018
Hogh died last December at the age of 62.
‘The day he told me he had cancer that whole thing really hit home to me,’ explains Schmeichel.
‘Those numbers are shortening, for all of us. I was like “Wow, now I get it”.
‘I have really started living by that now. It has changed me.
‘To have had some of the experiences I have had in life makes you learn that you are not immortal. Any day could be your last. So make sure you enjoy it’.
For Schmeichel, reminders of life’s cruelties are never far away. But so are reminders of the human capacity for recovery.
He paid tribute to the Leicester chief and later celebrated the club’s FA Cup win with his son
The Leicester goalkeeper was first on the scene when the helicopter carrying the club’s owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha crashed and killed all on board outside the King Power Stadium three-and-half years ago. But he was also on the pitch at Wembley taking selfies with Vichai’s son and heir Aiyawatt after Leicester won the FA Cup last May.
The 35-year-old was there when Christian Erikssen suffered a cardiac arrest playing for Denmark in last summer’s European Championships. But he saw his friend and team-mate at Hogh’s funeral last December and it was there that he learned Eriksen would soon return to football with Brentford.
‘We had a long chat so I knew about his comeback,’ Schmeichel told Sportsmail.
‘I knew the fire was back in his eyes and I am so happy for him. Brentford have got themselves one hell of a player. He is ready.
‘I don’t think he is celebrated enough but maybe that will change now because this is an amazing story.’
Schmeichel also witnessed his friend Christian Eriksen’s horrifying cardiac arrest at Euro 2020
It was a traumatic moment for Schmeichel but he is delighted to see Eriksen back in football
Schmeichel does not worry for the safety of his friend.
‘He has his own defibrillator fitted in his chest so he’s probably safer than all of us,’ he smiled.
‘For us as a country to go through what we did and now see him signing for a Premier League club is truly incredible.
‘It helps you have faith in life.’
Schmeichel grew up wanting to be associated with one club simply because some of his idols were.
Oliver Kahn at Bayern Munich. Iker Casillas at Real Madrid. His own father Peter at Manchester United.
For a time it seemed it would not be that way for him. Growing up at Manchester City, he was loaned to clubs as diverse as Falkirk and Bury and was then transferred to Notts County and Leeds. The young goalkeeper loved the game but none of that moving about really fulfilled him. And then he signed for Leicester in 2011.
‘Leicester has been the club that I have grown the most in, the club I have felt at home in,’ Schmeichel explained.
Schmeichel says Leicester has ‘given me so much’ after winning two major trophies with them
‘This is the club that has given me so much in terms of my life and football.
‘I always wanted to be a one-club man. Doing it for one club over an extended period is what the elite do.
‘My dad, Kahn, Casillas, Buffon at Juventus. Look at Roger Federer or Tom Brady in the NFL.
‘How do you achieve and maintain that level of excellence over such a long period? That was and is a huge motivation for me.’
Schmeichel was part of team that won the Premier League in 2016. He is club captain now and part of the fabric of the modern Leicester. He arrives for our interview early and stays a while afterwards, talking about the examples he tries to set to younger players and the moral dilemma facing teams ahead of this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
He is part of the club’s fabric and also enjoyed a famous FA Cup triumph last season
Beneath it all is a deeply contented professional, a man who knows he has done many of the game’s hard yards. He got to where he wanted to be and that means an awful lot.
He says: ‘You change as a person don’t you? You grow and that helps you.
‘I had one child when I arrived here. I have three now.
‘Challenges come with a growing family. But also you calm down because you realise there are more important things in life than football.
‘My kids don’t care if I have a good game or not. I have an obligation just to be a dad. So the results don’t linger as long and that really helps.’
Schmeichel grew up in an environment where football was king. His father Peter won just about everything possible with United as well as the 1992 Euros with Denmark.
Schmeichel’s father Peter (right) won just about everything possible with Manchester United, as well as the 1992 Euros with Denmark
At home in Manchester as a kid, Kasper would be in a football kit as soon as he could get his school uniform off. He would Tippex the name out on his father’s goalkeeping gloves and write his own on the top.
But that does not mean he was entirely sold on the profession.
‘Football was something I loved from the first minute but when I say that I mean actually playing football,’ he explained.
‘The palava around football and around my dad when I was child got to me a bit. So I fell out of love with it a bit.
‘It was difficult. When you are leaving Old Trafford and there are hundreds of fans banging on the car.
‘That was what I associated football with for a while. But actually getting on the pitch and playing? I always loved that.
Schmeichel loved the feeling of playing football and pictured his rise to the top of the game
‘I wanted my name on my gloves like my dad had. I wore his size 13s on my tiny hands.
‘You use your imagination as a kid. You emulate. My back garden was Old Trafford, it was Wembley, it was the Bernabeu. I could see it all in my head.’
The current Leicester season is challenging. Brendan Rodgers’ team are tenth in the Premier League and were knocked out of the FA Cup at Nottingham Forest.
Schmeichel has said previously he regrets not playing more Champions League football and the last two seasons have seen Rodgers’ team well-placed only to run out of momentum.
‘The Champions League is pinnacle of club football but if you had said last season we would win the FA Cup and finish fifth I would have taken that,’ he said.
‘I would rather win trophies. When I retire I won’t look back at the times we finished fourth.’
His Leicester side are going through a tough spell, with the team languishing in mid table
But Schmeichel insists he would not trade the trophies they have won for a top four spot
Last season’s FA Cup win over Chelsea was special for Schmeichel. His wife Stine gave birth to their third child the next day while, on the pitch, he was able to cement a relationship with his club’s owners that has only grown stronger since the terrible events of 2018.
‘What happened was so tragic that this club could have gone in a very different direction,’ Schmeichel said.
‘The players and staff and I think the fans are very grateful that the family chose to take the direction they did. It could easily have become too painful for them and that would have been understandable.
‘But I think they knew what the club meant to Vischai. They knew how he wanted to progress this club and they stuck by that. I am just thankful we have been able to repay them a little bit.’
We all know about the drama of Denmark’s Euro 2020 semi-final defeat to England last summer. But not many know about the drama that preceded the drama.
The Danish squad arrived in England ahead of the game to learn that a different ball would be used.
‘All the balls for the different competitions are 100 per cent different,’ explained Schmeichel.
‘The current Premier League ball is awful, for example.
The 35-year-old revealed how tricky he found handling the Euro 2020 ball used in the semis
‘Anyway the silver semi-final ball was different to the one we had been using throughout the Euros and when I got it in my hands in training I was like: “Woah!’ This is tricky”.
‘So I tried to get some different gloves sent over from Germany – gloves that would work better with that ball – but we couldn’t get them in to the country. So I was stuck with the ones I had.’
Schmeichel does not remotely blame the ball for Denmark losing the game. It was the same for both goalkeepers. But his insight does serve to indicate the level of detail modern goalkeepers rely on to prepare for big games.
For example, Schmeichel saved Harry Kane’s penalty in extra-time of the semi-final but did not attempt to hold the shot. The England captain mopped up the rebound to score.
‘My mindset that day was one of safety rather than precision and that was because of the ball,’ he nodded.
He saved Harry Kane’s penalty at Wembley but the England captain converted the rebound
‘In other words just save the penalty if possible and then deal with the outcome. Don’t try and hold it and risk it slipping under you.
‘But look, its completely irrelevant now. It doesn’t really matter. Had Harry slid the penalty the other side, I would have been nowhere near it and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
‘This is not why we lost. England went through and fair play to them.’
The Denmark team and indeed the nation went through the wringer last summer. Erikssen collapsed just before half-time of their opening game and they exited the tournament at Wembley 25 days later.
It seems there is more to come, though. Denmark had a 100 per cent record in World Cup qualifying with just one goal conceded until a depleted team lost their final group game to Scotland.
‘We experienced something in the Euros that I never thought I would,’ Schmeichel reflected.
Denmark’s proud showing at Euro 2020 brought everyone together, he says, and symbolised how special national team football can be
‘It showed me just what national team football can mean. For some reason in England national team football gets a really bad rep and everyone is gloomy when the international break comes round.
‘I don’t know any Danish person who thinks that. The national team is the one thing as a country we get together about. When we drive from the hotel to our home stadium there are people lining the streets, on the bridges, red and white everywhere.
‘That is just a unique experience. Nothing compares. It makes me emotional even talking about.’
With a year and half left on his Leicester contract, Schmeichel does not know what the future holds. Recent life events have taught him not to look too far ahead.
‘All my heroes and inspirations played well in to their 40s so maybe I will try somewhere else or maybe not,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s round the corner do I? I have a family that I need to take care of and put first at some point.
Schmeichel wants to play into his 40s and has no plans to put a stop to his career just yet
‘At their ages, their lives are just as important. So things can change and come up.’
The Schmeichel family have been through a lot recently. It is unsurprising that they are uppermost in his thoughts. They must have worried about him, too, mustn’t they?
‘Yeh, it’s difficult,’ he said. ‘There is no questions that these events impact you. With the kids you learn to take care of yourself so that you can be there for them. They have been in my mind a lot with some of the things that have happened.
You accept that you are not in control and that bad things can happen. I think it’s important to teach your kids to hope for the best and think for the best but also to know that not everything always works out for the best.
‘We must all be realistic about things. If I have learned anything at all, then maybe it’s that.’
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