It’s not always easy to move to a new city, let alone a new country, but especially during a global pandemic where most of the world went into lockdown. But in August 2020, Leeds defender Robin Koch did just that.
The centre-back was signed to replace then-Brighton mercenary Ben White ahead of Leeds’ return to the Premier League but found England’s top flight not always easy.
After a debut he would probably rather forget against Liverpool at the start of the 2020/21 season, injuries to himself and the squad in general have seen his playing time limited, or played out of position to cover other areas in the past two seasons.
But despite some difficult moments, 26-year-old Koch has never felt more than welcome in Leeds.
“I felt really good here from the start,” he said live before Sunday’s Premier League game against Aston Villa Air sports.
“Even with Covid it wasn’t the easiest time to move to a new city and country, but the team made it so easy for me and welcomed me from day one.
“After Covid got better, the shops opened up and people went into the city more. I walked around and connected with Leeds supporters and felt how special the club is to the city. Everyone knows Leeds United and everyone knows who you are .”
“They are so fanatical with the club and it’s nice to be here and it’s a great relationship with the fans. When I walk around town everyone comes to talk to you, wishes you all the best and is always positive, also in the difficult situations like last year.
“This is what makes it so special and I really enjoy it, being on the pitch with the boys and living here.”
Now his ease has been translated to the pitch in Leeds and the defender is finally thriving after two years at Elland Road. Koch has played every minute in the Premier League this season and was named Leeds captain in a 5-2 loss to Brentford in early September.
It is a role for which he was chosen by his own teammates. They nominated him to take the armband in the absence of other senior players. Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo have already preceded Koch as captain this season, with club captain Liam Cooper and vice-captain Luke Ayling sidelined.
He reflected: “It was very special for me because I want to move forward and be an important part of the team. It’s very special to get the feedback from the team and the coach to be captain of Leeds United.
“I knew [he would be captain] because in preparation sometimes I was captain and the team said that if any of our captains is injured, it’s me. This feels very special because you also get the trust of the teammates and the coach.
“I want to be a leader for this team even without the captaincy role, but of course it’s nice feedback from them.
“It’s nice to feel fit and play at my best, then that gives me good performances in these matches. This is what I want for myself and with the last two years with injuries it hasn’t been the easiest time for me, so now it feels even better to be fully fit and perform well.
“It’s part of football that sometimes you have injuries. It’s not the easiest or best time for a footballer, but when you come through it, come out of the injury and show good performance and feel good, then you appreciate even more that you are able to play and be back with the team.
“I think you come back stronger after every hard time, so after injuries you are even mentally stronger.”
Koch also shows his leadership qualities off the field. He is regularly involved in community projects in Leeds, particularly involving children and young people, as he aims to inspire the next generation.
“I enjoy it immensely,” he said. “I did the same in Germany and when I came here I said I wanted to do something similar and we came up with something. Even with Covid it wasn’t so easy, but now it’s easier.
“For me it’s partly to give back to the community and also personally, it’s so great to see how happy the kids are when you just show up.
“You sometimes bring some presents, but you take the time and talk to them, especially children with not the easiest life and how much energy you can give them. You see how they progress and that is nice to see.”
Koch hopes to bring a touch of that inspiration to Sunday’s Premier League clash with Aston Villa, live on Air sports.
It comes almost a month after their defeat at Brentford, with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with two of Leeds’ matches being postponed before the international break.
“After a month, we are happy to finally be able to play again.” said Koch. “We had some time to regenerate and get rid of some minor injuries. Now the most important thing is to focus on the next game.
“We had time to train a lot, we used this time well, even with friendlies. Some players went for the national team and now we are back on Friday with the whole team and then we go straight into the game.”
“We are really looking forward to this game, it is clear that there are no easy games in the Premier League and we know that.
“But we have now prepared for the weekend, even if it is a little different with a break of a month without a game, but we feel ready and going for the win in this game.
Robin Koch focuses on German World Cup team
Robin Koch was part of Germany’s squad for Euro 2020 last summer and when asked if he would aim for a spot in Hansi Flick’s World Cup squad for Qatar, he replied: “Of course.
“There is still a little bit of time to get back into the team and for me it’s the performance like the beginning of the season, just keep going and see what I can do. It’s up to the national coach then.”
“If you go through the [Aston Villa] line up, you can see the quality, especially on offense. We know their players and their qualities and it is a good challenge. For me personally and for the team it’s nice to match with the best players and this is the Premier League, so we’re looking forward to it.”
The unexpected break has also given Leeds time to continue their work under Jesse Marsch as they adapt to new tactics and ways of playing – namely a more zonal style among the American rather than the man-to-man approach where his predecessor, Marcelo Bielsa.
Looking back at work, Koch said: “It’s a process. He came in last year in difficult conditions and now we have a full pre-season with him and we’ve been working on a lot of things.
“I think in the first games it showed that we know the style, we play with him and it worked quite well. Obviously we need to put more work into it, get even better in some areas and this is it goal.”
With Leeds’ latest Premier League win against Chelsea at the end of August, Koch and his team hope that the extra work done over the past month will lead them to three points this weekend against Aston Villa.