Rome (AFP) – Simon Kjaer has become much more than a captain for Denmark, the defender hailed as a rock for his calm which saved the life of team-mate and close friend Christian Eriksen.

When Eriksen collapsed, just before half-time in Saturday’s game against Finland at Euro 2020, time stood still in Copenhagen. 

Not for Kjaer, who from his half of the pitch rushed forward to roll Eriksen onto his side, stabilised his head and opened his mouth to prevent him choking on his tongue. 

An intervention deemed decisive before medical staff arrived to administer CPR on the 29-year-old who suffered a cardiac arrest.

The quick-thinking of the AC Milan centre-back came as no surprise to those who know Kjaer.

“He has an imperial calm, we saw it with his superb reaction on Saturday,” Jean-Michel Vandamme, who recruited Kjaer to former French club Lille in 2013, told AFP.

“He’s a kind of modern-day (German captain Franz) Beckenbauer, a man with great class.”

When the doctors arrived Kjaer stepped aside, keeping watch over his stricken team-mate while organising the others, many in tears, in a semi-circle to shield Eriksen from the view of the public and television cameras.

As Eriksen’s distraught partner Sabrina Kvist Jensen came running onto the pitch fearing the worst, it was again Kjaer, along with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who hugged and reassured her.

Schmeichel, whose calm was also hailed, paid tribute to “a fantastic person and a captain”. 

“I am not surprised that Simon Kjaer has taken the lead. He has great ethics and I’m proud to consider him as my friend.”

– Milan rivals –

Kjaer and Eriksen know each other well, living in the same city where they play for rival clubs, the defender at AC Milan and the midfielder at Serie A champions Inter.

The teams had a heated rivalry this campaign with Inter winning the league title after an 11-year wait and AC Milan returning to the Champions League.

Inter’s Italian midfielder Nicolo Barella was among the first to praise Kjaer: “Beyond the colours, congratulations Simon, a captain and a real man.” 

Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta stressed his “very important intervention”, while Inter’s ultra fans even deployed a banner to pay tribute to the Denmark captain.

At AC Milan, some supporters were even calling for Kjaer, who joined the club in January 2020, to take over the skipper’s armband.

It’s not that far-fetched a proposal, with current captain Alessio Romagnoli no longer a first-team fixture and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s contract set to expire at the end of June.

There are other candidates like the Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, midfielder Franck Kessie or Davide Calabria, the longest-serving Milan player.

Kjaer has won over those in Milan, as he did in Lille between 2013 and 2015. 

“The first thing I remember is the person. He was an exemplary boy, extremely kind, and a true professional who lived fully for his profession. When you have lads like that, you don’t forget them,” Rene Girard, his coach at Lille, told AFP.

However it remains to be seen how the Kjaer, the player, will finish this Euro after such intense emotions.

On Saturday, he resumed the game against Finland, but asked to be taken off not long after in a state of shock, with Denmark losing 1-0.

“He tried, but it could not be done. It’s completely understandable,” said coach Kasper Hjulmand, who will need Kjaer on Thursday for their second Group B game against Belgium and Romelu Lukaku, Eriksen’s on-form Inter team-mate.