Berlin – Legend, idol, or icon. Those are just three ways of describing the status gained by an athlete after long-term service. Three examples are Salomon Kalou, Per Skjelbred and Thomas Kraft. The trio have been fan favourites in Berlin for many years now, and will all depart the capital in the summer after 2,130, 2,430 and 3,287 days at the club respectively.
Salomon Kalou’s journey at Hertha began on 31st August 2014. The then 29-year-old signed from OSC Lille in France, with an already stellar career behind him. The striker had played 156 times in the Premier League for Chelsea (36 goals) and 67 times in Ligue 1 for Lille (30 goals) before his move. He showed his quality – especially in front of goal – from the beginning of his Hertha career. He scored his first goal in the 1-0 win over Wolfsburg in his third game, before grabbing his first Bundesliga brace two games later. The Ivory Coast international’s second season in the capital was a particular success, as he scored 17 goals in all competitions, including that famous hat-trick in Hannover with a bandage on his head. Overall, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner scored 53 goals in 173 games for Hertha, also recording 16 assists. He departs as Hertha’s 11th highest all-time top goalscorer and the fifth highest scorer in the club’s Bundesliga history. Hertha’s number eight also showed great discipline and fair play throughout his career with the ‘Old Lady’. He was never shown a red card in his six years at the club, and only ever saw six yellows. The 34-year-old was also popular with the fans due to his personality off the pitch. After 2,130 days, Kalou’s time at Hertha is over. “I had a fantastic time at Hertha BSC with some great players, staff and fans – I respect them all greatly. Despite all of that, I’m still really sorry about what happened at the end. This doesn’t reflect on my time at Hertha at all,” said ‘Sala’.
Norwegian midfield engine
Per Skjelbred’s Hertha career began 300 days before Kalou’s. The Norwegian international moved to the capital in 2013/14 – initially on loan from Hamburger SV. He made 28 appearances in his first campaign (2 goals, 7 assists), before making a permanent move to Hertha for the following season. The defensive midfielder became a key part of the side, mainly down to his passion and determination on the field. He was soon one of the team leaders and also a regular in the starting XI. The 33-year-old went on to play 197 times for Hertha BSC, equating to 15,563 minutes. Only 21 players have ever played more often for Hertha in the club’s history. Skjelbred was well liked by the fans, players and staff off the pitch too. His involvement in various social events was well appreciated and his honest and down-to-earth attitude made him a key part of Hertha’s day-to-day business. He will now return to his home country to sign for Rosenborg. “Seven years at one club is a really long time nowadays. I have really enjoyed my time here. My children have grown up here in Berlin, so this city will also mean a lot to my family and me. It’s going to be weird when we say goodbye to Berlin in a few days time,” commented ‘Schelle’ in his final interview.
Longest-serving Herthaner – 46 clean sheets
The new squad photo for next season will seem somewhat strange for all Herthaner without goalkeeper Thomas Kraft on it. The 31-year-old has been at the club since July 2011 and is the longest-serving player at Hertha right now. After playing in 19 first-team matches at FC Bayern, the then 23-year-old shotstopper moved to the capital and immediately became the club’s number one, appearing in all 34 Bundesliga games in his first season. He remained the first-choice ‘keeper for the next three campaigns, playing his part in the club’s immediate promotion back to the Bundesliga in 2013. He then lost his place in the side to Rune Jarstein in 2015/16, only making sporadic appearances thereafter. Nevertheless, he was always ready when called upon and continued to train hard day in, day out. He remained a role model for other players throughout his career in Berlin. Kraft played five times in 2019/20, bringing his overall total to 159 matches for Hertha (3,287 days). He kept 46 clean sheets too, an impressive record by the former Champions League participant.
‘Essi’ also says goodbye, loanees return to parent clubs
Alexander Esswein, Marko Grujic and Marius Wolf will also no longer pull on the Blue-White jersey. Esswein, who has been at the club since 2016, has made 60 competitive appearances during his time in Berlin, scoring five goals and providing six assists. ‘Essi’ also made a further eight appearances for the Hertha U23s in the Regionalliga Nordost, scoring two goals and setting up one. Marko Grujic and Marius Wolf are also saying their goodbyes, with their respective loan deals coming to an end this summer. After two separate spells at the club, featuring 54 appearances in total (nine goals and three assists), Hertha’s number 15 returns to German head coach Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool FC, who recently secured their first Premier League title in 30 years on Thursday night (25/06/30). Marius Wolf also returns to his parent club, re-joining Marco Reus and Co. at Borussia Dortmund. The versatile wide player joined the club from BVB on the last day of the summer transfer window. The number 30 was almost ever-present for the Blue-Whites up until the break in play due to the Coronavirus, appearing in 20 out of the first 21 Bundesliga matches, as well making two appearances in the DFB-Pokal. The 25-year-old racked up six goal involvements during his time at the club (one goal and five assists). Unfortunately he has been unable to finish his time in the capital out on the pitch due to being side-lined by injury.
The six Herthaner officially bid farewell to the capital city club on Sunday afternoon as part of a ‘Hertha030’ special program. Thomas Kraft wasn't present due to personal reasons, while Salomon Kalou isn't happy with the current situation and would prefer to say goodbye at a later date. The full video is available via Hertha TV.
Hertha BSC wishes all six players all the best for the future and wishes them good health. Thanks for everything, lads!