It isn’t often you see American players named captain of their clubs heading into a new European season. Currently in his 12th professional season in England, veteran defender and Hull City captain Eric Lichaj continues to produce at a high level.
Lichaj was named captain under new manager Grant McCann, continuing what has been a consistent spell with Hull City. In the EFL Championship for the third-consecutive season, Hull City are trying to bounce back up to the Premier League and Lichaj is has already seen positive moments 14 matches into the new season.
“There’s already been some bright spots in our team so far this season,” Lichaj told SBI. “However, we probably are a little disappointed in ourselves that we’ve dropped points in a few games. In my opinion we should be up the table even more, but it is what it is. Hopefully we can continue what I think has been a positive start to the season.”
“It’s a little bit different this season under Grant, we’ve been pressing teams a little bit more. Trying to win the ball in the other team’s half of the field and create chances from there. We’ve gotten some joy from it with our results. I feel the squad is understanding his tactics and every week goes by we get more familiar with his style of play. Hopefully we can continue to pick up wins to climb up the table.”
Lichaj is in his second season with Hull City, after joining from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2018. Since his arrival at the club, Lichaj has brought a veteran presence to the group and versatility in the backline, playing in every position of the backline last season. 2019-20 has seen him remain at the wingback position, one that has been his consistent spot for most of his career in England.
The 30-year-old has totaled 51 appearances for the Tigers in his one-and-a-half years there, continuing to play a major role for the club. Aiming to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2012-13 is a huge goal for Lichaj, but being named club captain for the first time in his career was the biggest honor.
“It’s a huge honor to be able to captain a club here in England, it means a lot to me,” Lichaj said. This is the first time I’ve been named captain prior to the season beginning so that is special. It’s a big honor, sometimes I am saying prematch words to the team in the huddle. Just the way I am, I don’t change who I am I try to continue to do the best on and off the pitch.”
“We have a quite good group to be fair and everyone is always ready to go for training during the week. Everyone on the squad kind of knows their job and what they need to do,” Lichaj said. “We have talent in the dressing room, as well as goals and good players. There’s not much added pressure even though I have the captain’s armband. I try to do the best for the club and for myself and I think we have a good chance of getting to those top six spots.”
In his lengthy career abroad, Lichaj has totaled over 300 professional appearances between the top four divisions in England, with the bulk coming in the Championship. The 24-team division runs from August to May with only three teams earning promotion to England’s first division, a goal that every team has on their radar in the summer time. Hull City will have their work cut out for them, sometimes playing three games in a week, but it’s all a part of the fight to get the club back to where Lichaj wants them.
“It’s a difficult league for sure,” Lichaj said. “Every preseason there are probably 16-17 teams that say they can push for a playoff spot. You can see it in the games here that some of the favorites to win matches often can lose to bottom of the table sides. We’re in the middle of the table right now, but a pair of wins could really boost you into or near those playoffs spots so it’s tough to say what can happen.”
“A bad run of form can see you drop into the relegation zone too so it’s hard to predict what can happen. Every team wants to get into the Premier League and for us we just have to do what we can control. Some weeks are tougher than others because we may play three games in seven days, so it’s less time on the training pitch and more time recovering for the next game. You just have to take advantage of chances if you want to get into the Premier League. I am used to the play and schedule now, but it was difficult when I first got here.”
After playing one season at the University of North Carolina in 2016, Lichaj made the jump to then-Premier League outfit Aston Villa, a club in which he only made 32 appearances in six years. A switch to Nottingham Forest in 2013 saw Lichaj earn regular minutes in the Championship, totaling over 170 appearances for Forest, including a famous two-goal performance against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Now in the latter stages of his career, Lichaj has continued to remain healthy and try his best to be a professional both on and off the pitch. The struggle of learning new systems consistently in the Championship is tough, but Lichaj has learned plenty in his career so far and reflected on what he’s gathered a long the way.
“I don’t know if I ever had a manager for more than a two-year stretch in England,” Lichaj said. “A lot of the times I feel like I was adapting to new managers and trying to myself prepared for how they wanted the team to play. The preparation is key and I feel that as I’ve gotten older I continue to try and prepare to the fullest.”
“I wish I had my older head on myself when I was a young player because I feel I would’ve been much more successful. I wish I came to England too because I felt I could’ve learned a bit more at a younger age. I did a lot of useless running as a younger player, but now I am studying the opponents and making the smart decisions on the field.I am enjoying my time, it’s my 12th season and hopefully I can enjoy it for a few more years.”
The recipient of 16 caps with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Lichaj has yet to appear under new head coach Gregg Berhalter. Last appearing in two matches in 2018 under then-head coach Dave Sarachan, Lichaj is still an option in defense for Berhalter despite younger players getting the bulk of the chances. Even if he hasn’t been called in, Lichaj remains a huge supporter of the team going forward as he continues to help Hull City get up the Championship table.
“I haven’t received any contact yet from Gregg or his staff, but hopefully they start picking up results because I am a fan of the team and obviously I want them to do well,” Lichaj said. “I try to watch as much as I can, but a lot of the time it’s watching the recaps the following morning of their games. Hopefully they pick up results because they need them.”
“We’ve let ourselves down a little to begin the season, but a good spell could get us going up the table. We know every week is going to be a challenge, but it’s good to test ourselves and get the competition going amongst everyone. We’ve won against Nottingham Forest and Derby so now we look towards Fulham in what will be another tough test.”