Q&A: A Conversation With Kristian Nicht – Part 1

In which Indy Eleven’s first signing talks about soccer idols, country music, and David Hasselhoff
by Doug Starnes   |   Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Checkered Flags – column on Indy NASL (Indy FC) & the Indianapolis soccer scene.

There are lots of things one notices about Kristian Nicht upon initially meeting the 1st signing in Indy Eleven history. He’s an intimidating 6’5’’ and 225 lbs. He’s quick with a smile and a heavily accented “Hello!” He has a tasteful faux hawk and stylish wardrobe.

What one doesn’t notice until one gets the 31-year-old German talking, is that Indy Eleven’s 1st signing is a thoughtful, grounded, down-to-earth dude. He’s like a lot of 31-year-old soccer players I know, and his authenticity surely comes in part from years grinding out a livelihood as a professional athlete just this side of the withering spotlight that is super stardom. Nicht has the affect and perspective of someone who knows the reality of professional sports – the hard work, disappointments and hyper-selective margins of the top 1% -- and has been on the ugly side of what most of us see as a through-and-through fairly tale. He’s someone un-used to the “star treatment”, but with enough stamps in his passport to be present when it’s offered and not get too far ahead or behind himself.

In a varied and unpredictable interview with Nicht, we discussed everything from David Hasselhoff to Brad Paisley; the Pittsburgh Steelers to faux hawks. Nicht was at his most contemplative and serious when discussing Robert Enke, the former German national team goalkeeper who tragically committed suicide in 2009, and his daughters Fabiane and Felicia, of whom is he obviously proud and protective.

In short, Nicht seems the sort of guy with whom you’d want to start a franchise with. Which is to say, he seems the sort of guy you’d call if your car broke down or if you wanted to grab a beer after a crappy Monday - loyal, grounded and authentic.

What follows is Part 1 of our interview and consists of Nicht’s responses to predominantly soccer questions.           

Kristian, nice to meet you! Just to give you a feel of what I’m looking for here, I’ve got some soccer questions and some off beat questions, so I’ll start with the soccer stuff?

KN: Sure.

Great! OK, best player you ever played against?

KN: Against is difficult. Obviously, I played multiple times against Bayern Munich so, um, it’s probably Bastian Schweinsteiger from the players’ side. Goalkeepers [pause] obviously, Oliver Kahn. He was tremendously good at the time. Unfortunately, I never played against Jens Lehmann because he played in England at the time I played in Germany. Probably Oliver Kahn.

Goalkeeping idols. You talked about Oliver Khan. I was a goalkeeper growing up, many years ago, and Juergen Sommer was one of the guys I looked up to because he was the first American to play in the Premier League and that was a big deal at the time. Guys that you knew growing up – obviously, you mentioned Oliver Kahn - I know you played at Carl Zeiss, that was your youth team, and Robert Enke was there as well. Were there guys you looked up to coming up who were the sort of players you modeled your game after?

KN: Well, that’s a little of a tough part for me [pause]. I’m still struggling with that. Robert was for me [long pause] he was my idol from the very beginning. He was a good friend of mine as well. I made my peace with it, but I still [pause] he [pause] he’s the reason why I turned pro. Without him as an idol, without him as someone to look up to in my youth academy. I wouldn’t be here, that’s for sure. So, uh. We met a couple of times after when he played at Barcelona and then later at Hannover. We obviously played against each other a couple of times. He had a huge influence on me, obviously. [Harald] Toni Schumacher was a big idol I had as well. I’m not a big Oliver Kahn fan. Obviously, he did a great job and was one of the best goalkeepers Germany ever had, probably even the best goalkeeper Germany ever had, but I never felt comfortable with the way he played because it was obviously so different from the way that I try to play.

Explain that, the difference to you…

KN: Well, I’m more Jens Lehmann type of player. Go out on crosses, being like the 11th player on the field.

Springing the attack from the back?

KN: Right. Oliver Kahn was more uh [pause] again, I shouldn’t say anything negative about him because he was a great player, but he was more of an old school goalkeeper. Tremendously good in 1 versus 1, basically unbeatable on the line, and he was a fantastic goalkeeper, but not the goalkeeper I look up to. I mean, obviously I look up to him, but not one of my idols.

I can see that. As an American, I don’t really have the connection a German would have to him, but to be honest with you, he was a great goalkeeper, but not one of the guys I looked up to. I really loved watching Peter Schmeichel play when I was growing up.

KN: Peter Schmeichel was one of my idols as well! Buffon - I like those types of players. Basically, Peter Schmeichel started this whole new generation goalkeeping thing. Coming out a lot, long throws, starting attack, and stuff like that. Peter Schmeichel was actually probably the turning point in the European new goalkeeper era.

OK, questions about NASL, right? So, you come to Indianapolis, we haven’t had a pro team here in over a decade. It’s an expansion side. It’s not a team that has any history. What do you expect? What are you hoping for in the first season? How do you think the team is going to do? What sort of team is going to be fielded? What do you think would be a successful first season for an NASL expansion franchise here in Indianapolis?

KN: Hmmm, I mean I don’t give you any prediction with uh, with how we end up…

Not wins and losses necessarily, but just sort of a big picture thing.

KN: You have to see it from the other point when you see the staff and how professionally they work. The people who are included in that starting with Ersal, Peter Wilt, Juergen Sommer - I expect nothing less than a very successful franchise. Not focusing too much on the season stat, um, they will be a very, very good franchise in American soccer. And obviously, I trust and have faith in Juergen that he will put together a very good team, a team which will fit in Indianapolis and will be good to each other. So, I mean, I’ve never been champion in my life, so one of the reasons I came here is the whole Indy franchise sounds so professional and so willing to have success and I want to be a part of that.

Awesome. I know a lot of people, especially being part of the soccer community here - to get a team, just to have a team - everyone is super excited. So, I was at the event on Tuesday night and I think you got a taste of where the fans are right now and they’re anxious to get started. A couple of more soccer questions: You talked a little about how you wanted to model your game after players like Buffon or like Jens Lehman - starting the attack from the back - what do you see as your strengths as a goalkeeper?

KN: I’m very offensive and pretty fearless. I’ve had a couple of face injuries during my whole career.

[Laughs] I read Ben’s [Simmons, Indy Eleven Communications Intern whose excellent interview can be read at IndyEleven.com] interview where you talked about getting stitched up on the field.

KN: Well, that was just a small one, actually! I broke my whole right side from here to here [Draws a line with his index finger from temple to cheek bone] when I was 16 or 17. It was everything basically done on that side of my face.

Well, you still look OK.

KN: [Laughs] Thanks, thanks, I appreciate that! You can see it actually when you look at my face you can see that my eyes are a little bit different.

A little crooked?

KN: Yeah! So, um, I had my nose opened [Pause]. It’s a little bit not how it should be.

But that comes with the territory in goalkeeping, for sure.

KN: Yeah. So, anyway, I mean, I can kick a ball quite long and quite accurate. I’ve worked on that throughout my whole life, actually through my whole career. I wouldn’t say I’m tremendously good at some special points, but -

Well, that goes into my next question. What do you think are areas that you can improve as a goalkeeper? I mean, a 31-year-old-goalkeeper? That’s like being a 26 or 27-year-old field player. You’re still getting to the point where you’re at the top of your game. What do you think you can continue to improve on?

KN: Everything. I mean, that’s what life’s about, right? When we stop improving things, we just don’t get better. And I got told through my whole life, with my parents, the way I was raised was, I mean, try to get better every day. That’s what the day is for. So, obviously, you can’t be good enough at something. My whole game, as a goalkeeper, that’s why I train. Not to train to hold my level, I train to get better every day. So, there’s nothing special. I want to improve. If I don’t see the point that I can improve any more, it’s probably time to retire. So, hopefully, it will give me a couple of years to have a great game.

In the second part of my interview with Kristian Nicht, we discussed his family, abiding love of country music, mohawk, and affinity for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Check back next week. 

Doug STARNES

Nationality:
USA
College:
Baylor Univ.
Club Domestic:
Indy Eleven
Club Foreign:
Fulham
A reformed goalkeeper, cheese enthusiast, beer aficionado, and all around unrequited lover of The Beautiful Game, Doug currently resides in Indianapolis and is chomping at the bit to cover Indy Pro Soccer in all of its soon to be glory.
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