Soon, Per Skjelbred will have worn Hertha BSC's jersey for 2,222 days - apart from a brief return to Hamburger SV in-between. Back in 2013, the midfielder arrived in Berlin on a loan basis, and a year later joined permanently. The Norwegian is now the longest-serving player in the squad after Thomas Kraft and Peter Pekarik. After almost 2,222 days, it’s clear that this transfer was an absolute stroke of luck for both sides. In six years now, the blonde-haired Norwegian has earned his reputation for honest, hard work. If attributes like diligence, motivation and ambition are lacking, then Skjelbred’s character always shines through. Skjelbred also sets a good example at the training camp in Stegersbach - paired with the necessary relaxedness. In-between the two training sessions on Sunday (28.07.19), herthabsc.de talked to the 'Viking' about club loyalty, being a role model and working together in the changing rooms.
herthabsc.de: Per, since 2013, you have been a part of Hertha BSC. Only Thomas Kraft and Peter Pekarik have player longer for the club. If things go well, you'll be playing your 200th competitive game this season. What do these numbers mean to you?
Per Skjelbred: I've been really lucky to have been able to stay with Hertha for so long. I'm grateful for that. I had good coaches here and got to know a lot of good guys. But it's a bit crazy: I've always felt like one of the youngest players in my entire career, then suddenly I was in my mid-20s, then suddenly in my late 20s and now I'm 32 and in theory I'm one of the older players. In my head, I still feel like I'm in my early 20s, only my legs are a bit heavier every now and then. But now I have more experience (smiles).
herthabsc.de: Experience that you as a veteran and 'old hand' also pass on to the young players. How do you manage that?
Per Skjelbred: First of all, I have to take care of myself in order to stay fit and help the team. It actually takes a bit longer to prepare ourselves for the season until we older players are in the best of shape. We often work with a close eye on us (grins). We have to be there when it comes to winning games. I’ve got to stay hungry, otherwise the younger players will jump two steps in front of me. What the young players want to learn and accept is up to them. I always try to show what older players taught me at the beginning of my career: Professionalism, seriousness and down-to-earthness.
herthabsc.de: That's probably easier said than done...
Per Skjelbred: ... Of course you can chat and play the fool, but when it comes to training or playing, you have to be there mentally and physically. After all these years I'm still trying to be a good role model. I can't change anyway, but I don't want to be the wrong person and change my personality. I'm Per and Per is serious when he has to be serious – otherwise, I like to be a clown (laughs).
herthabsc.de: Now you're one of the older players. Does a little melancholy sometimes creep in or do you think that you would like to start your career again as a young player?
Per Skjelbred: No! I've had a great time so far. When I was 16, I was a professional at Rosenborg Trondheim. I joined the team as a young lad and played in the Norwegian championship and in the Champions League. The older ones taught me a lot back then, and I had a great time that wouldn't be swapped for anything. When I was 18, I got injured. Who knows how it would have gone if I didn't have this injury. But that's how I met my wife, had two wonderful children, and made my way via Hamburger SV to Hertha BSC.
herthabsc.de: In the fast-moving football business, such values are sometimes neglected. The fact that players go on strike to change clubs is no longer an exception. After 16 years as a professional, how do you view the industry?
Per Skjelbred: When I look back on the past years, I always have differing thoughts. On the one hand, there’s the whole circus of table positions and accumulating points. On the other hand, there’s the human aspect - and that will mean the most to me at some point - the time in the changing rooms, the shared feeling after a crazy game or just the daily nonsense. I've met a lot of great people - very different people with various cultures, ethnicities and religions. As a football player, you are in a great situation, as you can have people from all over the world in one room. It's a real clash of cultures, but it works and it's something special.
herthabsc.de: And the development of the game?
Per Skjelbred: Everything has become more professional. Football is evolving. It has become faster and technically and tactically more demanding. Also the surroundings: changing rooms with sleeping berths, supervision during breaks or specific sessions in the gym. It's not new, but media interest has also increased. We have an ever-increasing communications department that always accompanies us and is active on more and more channels. But the questions are: When will this development stop? Where are we going with football? How far can you push your body until you overload it?
herthabsc.de: The training camp in Stegersbach is also physically very tough for the players. But, it’s also a chance for the team to grow closer, as you also have two new players to integrate. What are your first impressions of Dedryck Boyata and Eduard Löwen?
Per Skjelbred: ‘Dedo’ and Edu are good guys, and they will definitely help us. They have integrated themselves well and are already showing what they can do. But, football can be funny sometimes.
herthabsc.de: What do you mean by that?
Per Skjelbred: You work with your teammates every day, spend day after day with them and then (snaps fingers) you say goodbye at the end of the season and when we come back, there’s three or four players from last season who aren’t there anymore. Then there are new faces sitting in the dressing room. There are some guys who you’ve experienced so much with, but sometimes I have the feeling that there wasn’t even enough time to say thank you and to have a proper goodbye. It goes so quickly, but after a few years I’ve gotten used to this situation. It’s just part of the business.
herthabsc.de: Do you keep in contact with any former Herthaner?
Per Skjelbred: Earlier, I received a voice message from ‘Lusti.’ I still keep in touch every now and then with Sami Allagui and Peter Niemeyer, and our paths cross every once in a while. We gave our blood, sweat and tears together. As footballers, you have a similar demeanour and sense of humour. Before our recent friendly against Fenerbahçe, the last time I saw Tolga Cigerci was two years ago when we played a friendly against Galatasaray. But after speaking for a few minutes, you realize that nothing has changed. We all tend to think alike and have the same humour.
herthabsc.de: Part of the business of football is having to make tough decisions. You retired from the Norwegian national team at the start of 2017. Have you ever regretted making that decision?
Per Skjelbred: No, not once. If people were to ask me whether I can still play for the national team, then I would say ‘yes’ immediately. But, I didn’t make that decision for no reason. I wanted to have more time at home with my family, as well as more time for myself and not have to do all these additional trips and matches. Of course, I miss the lads on the team, I miss the training sessions and our evenings together, but in the end I had had enough. Since then, I’ve had the feeling that I’ve been able to relax a bit more by not having those international games. It was also the right time to retire—Lars Lagerbäck had just taken over as head coach and there were many youngsters that joined the squad. Those young players need room to develop. The team’s development has been good and hopefully we will be able to qualify for a major tournament soon.
herthabsc.de: The international breaks during the Hinrunde of the 2019/20 season will take place in September, October and November. If we end on that topic, where will Hertha BSC be then?
Per Skjelbred: We will have to wait and see. Right now, we’re still in pre-season. Once the pressure’s on, then we’ll see how good we are. But, I’m already starting to look forward to the new season (laughs). I’m looking forward to a new challenge under a new head coach. My impression of Ante Čović has been positive so far—he’s got a real passion for football.