Sami Khedira has won titles at VfB Stuttgart, Real Madrid and Juventus, but now faces a different kind of challenge altogether as he tries to help Hertha Berlin avoid relegation.
bundesliga.com has the lowdown on the Old Lady's marquee winter signing.
1) Humble beginnings
The son of a German mother and Tunisian father, Khedira grew up in Fellbach-Oeffingen, a small town just north of Stuttgart in south-western Germany, with his two brothers, one of whom, Rani, is also a professional and currently plays for Augsburg. They were "not a wealthy family", as Khedira later recalled, but he nevertheless looks back on what was "a great childhood".
He joined the famed VfB Stuttgart youth academy in 1995 at the age of eight and, despite progressing well, started an apprenticeship in industrial business management after leaving school when he was 16. Khedira ended that training course early after just 18 months, however, after he was promoted to Stuttgart's reserve team from the U19s. As decisions go, it was a life-altering one, even if he may not have known it at the time.
2) Stuttgart breakthrough
Before joining the Stuttgart youth ranks in 1995, he took his first tentative steps in the game at local club TV Oeffingen. He was promoted to Stuttgart's first team by Armin Veh early in the 2006/07 season and did not have to wait long for his debut, which came on 1 October 2006 in a 2-2 draw in the capital. Just four weeks later, he opened his scoring account in style, with a brace in a 3-0 win over Schalke.
The impression he made in his first few months as a professional was big enough to earn him his first pro contract - a two-and-a-half-year deal penned at the end of January 2007 - and he ended his first season in style with the winning goal as Stuttgart clinched their first Bundesliga title in 15 years with a 2-1 win over Energie Cottbus. One of his teammates that day was current Stuttgart CEO Thomas Hitzlsperger.
3) Playing style
His 1.89m (6"2') frame lends Khedira both a height advantage to survey the action from the centre of the field, and the physical robustness for the tough-tackling approach which has made Khedira such a feared midfield campaigner. Though not the quickest of players, his vision, timing and game understanding have helped Khedira forge a career as one of the most successful central midfielders around.
"In Sami, Hertha are getting an incredibly experienced player with a lot of heart and passion," said Germany coach Joachim Löw of a player who has given him a great deal for the national team. "He's proven that over and over again, both on and off the field." Comfortable both as a No.6 and a No.8, it is in the latter position where Löw feels he can be compared to French world champion Paul Pogba. "They are two players who have similar quality going forward."
4) Germany debut
Löw is better placed than many to draw such comparisons, though it was not he who handed Khedira his international debut - at least not at U21 level. That was Dieter Eilts, who called him up for the first time in 2007. Two years later, Khedira wore the captain's armband as a Germany U21 side featuring the likes of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Mesut Özil beat England 4-0 to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
That put him firmly on Löw's radar and he made his senior debut on 5 Sept 2009 in a friendly against South Africa and was called up to Germany’s 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa. Part of a squad that included Arne Friedrich (more on that later), his performances - he played in all seven games - helped Germany finish third, with his first international goal in the third-place play-off win over Uruguay earning him the first of many international medals.
5) …Big moves
It also earned him a move to Real Madrid, where he would look anything but out of place in a position once taken by a certain Zinedine Zidane. As fate would have it, Khedira would not ultimately work under Zidane, though he excelled in a Madrid team which won one La Liga title and their much sought-after tenth UEFA Champions League title before Zidane arrived and led the Spanish club to another two Champions League crowns - including victory over Khedira's next club, Juventus.
If winning five titles in as many years in Spain is not impressive enough, what Khedira did in Italy is nothing short of spectacular. In addition to five straight Scudettos, Khedira lifted the Coppa Italia three times and also got his hands on the Italian Supercoppa, though defeat to Madrid in the 2017 Champions League final denied him the opportunity of lifting that trophy for a second time.
6) World Cup winner
Khedira had already got his hands on the ultimate prize in world football anyway, being a key member of the Germany side which clinched the FIFA World Cup in 2014. Khedira started five of Germany's fixtures on their way to the final, scoring one and setting up another in the historic 7-1 humiliation of hosts Brazil in the semi-final. He was due to start the final too after Löw named an unchanged line-up from the side that had humbled Brazil, but he hurt his calf in the warm-up and was forced to sit it out. Christoph Kramer played in his stead, and was incidentally also taken off after suffering concussion just 31 minutes in.
Two years later, Khedira helped the world champions to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 - missing only that 2-0 defeat to hosts France having played every other game - and he wore the captain's armband with more regularity as Germany qualified for the 2018 World Cup, though his last game for his country was tinged with both personal and collective disappointment, as a 2-0 defeat to South Korea saw the defending champions eliminated in the group stage.
7) Social engagement
Despite the ending, Khedira's international career was filled with glory and joy - both for him, and for others. Indeed, he bought 1,200 tickets for disadvantaged children to be able to watch Germany's 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Norway, a game which was played in his home city of Stuttgart. Among the children able to see their heroes in action in person that day were groups from socially deprived areas, and cancer patients.
"The charitable organisations are from my home town Oeffingen and Fellback, and many of them are also in Stuttgart, Tübingen or Ludwigsburg," Khedira said. "It's important for me not only to donate money, but that the children get something out of it. Many kids wouldn't usually get the chance to see the national team play live due to financial and logistical reasons." The tickets were for front-row seats too, with Khedira obliging numerous interviews and photos after the final whistle. "I hope I can give the kids something to smile about," added Khedira, who set up the 'Sami Khedira foundation' in 2014 with the aim of helping socially disadvantaged children
8) Order of Merit
It was a combination of Khedira's on and off-field achievements that saw him earn the Order of Merit of his home state of Baden-Württemberg. In recognition of his "sporting and social engagement", Khedira received the prestigious award in July 2016. "Where you come from and the colour of your skin plays no role on the field," said the minister president of the state of Baden-Württemberg Winfried Kretschmann. "It's all about team spirit and team unity, and Khedira is a fine example of this." He became the next footballer after another Stuttgart native, Jürgen Klinsmann, to receive such recognition.
Furthermore, in 2019, Khedira was appointed by Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel onto a jury selecting projects to be rewarded for their work on integration in German society.
9) First and only hat-trick: ball in the back seat
Scoring goals has not been one of Khedira's specialities - though that is not to say he does not know the way to goal. After scoring 16 goals for Stuttgart, nine for Real Madrid and seven for Germany, he enjoyed the most prolific spell of his career to date in Italy, with a total of 21 goals in his 145 games for the Serie A club. While he had already scored several braces in his early days for Stuttgart, coming off the field with the matchball after scoring a hat-trick was something he had never experienced – until 22 October 2017.
Sami Khedira celebrated the first hat-trick of his career against Udinese on 22 October 2017, but like the true professional that he is, he did not want to take all the limelight. "It's the first hat-trick of my career, so that's great, but I'm above all happy with the win," he said. How right he was, as the victory helped the Bianconeri win the title by just four points that season. That Scudetto ended up in his trophy cabinet, though the final destination of that matchball remains a mystery. All we do know is that the ball, signed by his teammates, was given a back-seat ride home.
10) Return to Germany with Hertha
So from winning titles with Real Madrid, Juventus and Germany… to helping Hertha fight against relegation. How did that come about. Well, remember Arne Friedrich? He was 31 at the time the pair first met in the Germany national team, and he was plying his trade at Hertha. In January 2021, he was appointed as the capital club's sporting director, and he wasted no time reaching for the phone to call up an old friend.
"I know his leadership qualities and so am very happy that we now have him under contract at Hertha," said Friedrich, who revealed how the phone line between the two had always remained busy over the past decade. Khedira did not have to think twice about helping out an old friend, and returning to Germany, where he will wear the same No.28 shirt he wore right at the beginning of his journey with Stuttgart. And remember how that first professional season ended?