Sami Khedira is looking to keep Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga and beyond. - © getty images
Sami Khedira is looking to keep Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga and beyond. - © getty images
bundesliga

Sami Khedira on Hertha Berlin, battling relegation and his hopes for the future

After over 10 years away from his home country, 2014 FIFA World Cup winner Sami Khedira returned to Germany and the Bundesliga in January to join Hertha Berlin in their battle against relegation.

In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Khedira discusses why he joined the Old Lady, what his role in the squad is on and off the pitch, and what headlines he is hoping to see about the club come the end of the 2020/21 campaign...

Sami Khedira on his first three weeks at Hertha Berlin...

Sami Khedira: "Yeah, we could have got more from the games, but at the end of the day the only thing that matters in football is the result, so that's clear and it's tough to take. One or two days later no-one is talking about whether we could have got more or not - the truth is, we are where we are, quite low down the table, with our backs to the wall, so it's tough to take, of course, because we had the chances. But internally, we're also trying to take the positives from the game. We're very self-critical, we know there are areas where we absolutely have to improve, but despite that we played against a good side. However, I keep saying: I can repeat myself: Bayern, a good Stuttgart side, and now Leipzig who are in a title race - it doesn't mean anything when you don't have any points. At the end of the day, you don't get anything for coming second. Only points are what counts and that's where we quickly have to find some solutions, not just to put in good performances but to be more effective. That's the job for the game on Saturday, and the games that follow."

On his fitness...

Khedira: "It's always hard to talk in numbers. I was welcomed very well here, but I said from the start that I couldn't be at 100 percent because you can't when you've not played for a long time and you've only trained. So the build-up that we had, with some intense training, building up game time - 10 minutes against Bayern, a good runout against Stuttgart and now 70 minutes against Leipzig, I felt good physically afterwards but you have to be clever about it. The body is unforgiving, I know that I have experience of that, so I'll try and improve bit by bit. We also have some good midfielders who can come in and give us a boost, so I feel better every week, but I need games. I think the minutes I've played so far have been good, and they'll help me eventually get back to my maximum level - but when that will be, it could be that it happens now and then it gets worse in two or three weeks, then it's better again. It's all dependent on each day, but overall I feel happy here at Hertha on the training pitch, but also in games."

On helping younger players...

Khedira: "If I can do that myself, we'll see! I'll do my best. In my experience, it's not just done with words but by explaining things. It's most effective when you're setting an example. I've had the experience in my long career so far of playing with some amazing, experienced players, and I always asked them things and watched them, but the most important thing is what happens on the pitch. You can talk a lot in the dressing room, you can call on experience - even in this situation now. We can't lose our heads, we can't go off. We know that it's a tough situation, a dangerous one that could get more dangerous in the next two, three, four weeks, we know that. But I also know that in a title race there are ups and down, and when you're at the bottom of the table it's the same. So we can't rely on what happens in April or May, but we also can't lose our heads. As far as I can tell, the boys are level-headed - they're still young, they do make mistakes, but that's completely normal. They're still kids, so they will switch off sometimes. But they should do that, and that's why people like myself are there to say 'Okay, that's enough, no more' - they should be having fun playing football, but also listening to the older, more experienced players. And if they do that, you can allow for one or two mistakes. That's kind of my job, it's something I've learned over the years from older players."

Watch: The return of Sami Khedira - Hertha's saviour?

On where Hertha need to improve...

Khedira: "I think I said it at the start. We need to be more clinical. The team is full of talent, we've worked really hard on our tactics in the last three weeks, we didn't really allow Bayern many chances, we didn't give Stuttgart anything in the second half and I think in the first half against Leipzig last Saturday, we didn't allow them a single chance - second half, sure, we played ourselves into trouble a bit, but we've been more solid, we've been aggressive without the ball, we've been more difficult to play against. Up top we're trying to do all we can - it's totally normal that we can't play such a high line, we've come from a really difficult situation so we can't compare ourselves to Wolfsburg, Leverkusen or Gladbach who are right up there and they keep winning. It's a different situation for us. We need to be more clinical. We need to be better in front of goal, we have to want to score goals more, we've not been so good in the penalty area as far as I've seen. We need the wingers and the midfielders to want to get into the box and score goals, that's incredibly important - if there's only one of you in the box, it's highly unlikely you're going to score. So it's just little things, little details, but those aren't things that you fix in one or two weeks, it's a longer process. We needed stability, we have that now. We need the mentality and the passion, and that's there too. The team is together, we're not blaming anyone, and that's really important in this team."

On tough weeks ahead...

Khedira: "Yeah, that's the Bundesliga. We're not such a bad team either. We know that it's not going to get any easier, even against a direct rival. Augsburg are also fighting for survival. I'm pretty close to one of their players, and he says basically every day that they know what a big game it will be here in Berlin. But we have to rise to it. As I said, we'll do everything we can to pick up points in every game. That's what we have to do, that's what I want to do, and the coach too. But if it doesn't happen, we can't say 'Oh, now it's all over', because then we'll destroy ourselves. We need to keep calm but also be as self-critical, and the coach is very, very critical with us. He gets loud, he calls out players individually sometimes. The players take it on board. We have a big squad, and we can't lose that. This is a marathon. It was 15 games to go when I arrived, now it's 12 games. We have to be fully concentrated every week, and not say 'After this Champions League mode we'll pick up points'. We can't do either. We have to focus on ourselves and work on things that will eventually get us out of this - and those things are passion, technical quality, but also the energy and the emotion you need to bring in. I think with that we'll have the best chance of picking up points."

Sami Khedira (r.) will come up against brother Rani (l.) when Hertha Berlin host Augsburg on Matchday 24. - imago/Sportfoto Rudel

On his Hertha teammates...

Khedira: "I've read, I've heard, I obviously sought out a lot of advice as to whether I should commit to Hertha or not. Lots was written about it, but I tried to free myself from that and form my own analysis. Analysis from outside, from a long way away - in a TV studio or journalists who write about it - I always find it tough because they don't know the internal workings of a team. So in that sense, I was positively surprised by all the players because pretty much all of them were written off as hopeless talents, like divas, as weak characters. But I see a lot of personalities in the team. I see young, talented players who really want to learn. When I speak with them - I don't know if they say something behind my back! - but they listen, when we're talking about private things and also about football. I have a good feeling with the coaching staff too. So I can definitely say that I've got a good impression from all the players here. I'm not trying to focus on one, or two, or five players, I'm focusing on all of them. Obviously, I have a bit more to do with one or two, but I'm lucky enough to be able to speak multiple languages, so I can talk to anyone. I try to speak to the Germans, English, Spanish or South Americans, we have a couple of Italians or Italian-speaking players, so I speak with everyone. But that's how it should be, you shouldn't be forming smaller cliques, and it doesn't really happen in our team."

On Pal Dardai...

Khedira: "He has an idea for every game. A plan for every game, one that we work on every week. We're lucky to have a full week of training at the moment, so the coach can study things with his team, and for me, it's something new - for the last 10 years, I've not really had this. When you're playing every three days you get a bit of video analysis but there's not much you can do on the training pitch. So the coach shows us a video with what he wants, with his team, we go out onto the training pitch and practise that. For every game, he has an idea, for every game he has a plan. He discusses it with his team too, in front of the whole team but also with certain players in certain positions. He understands - he was a really good player, most appearances for Hertha - and he knows that it's the players who have to carry out the plan. Obviously, he's the boss, he decides who plays and he decides the tactics, but the players have to carry that out so he communicates a lot with us. His door is always open, so working with him has been very good, very positive. It's fun. I like honest and direct people, and he is one. Sometimes he's very, very direct! But I can deal with that, I never take it personally because he just wants the team to have success, and as I said, I think we have 30, or 29 players here - 10 play, 10 on the bench, so that means nine don't make the squad, that's a lot. But at the end of the day, it's all about the survival of Hertha Berlin and the players understand that, and it's what Pal Dardai says too. It shows that he's not just thinking about football, but he also knows that a team is made of people. He's very good at that, and that's the impression I've had from the first three or four weeks. I can only say positive things."

At the age of 33, Sami Khedira's primary focus is on keeping Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga. - imago images

On his contract...

Khedira: "That's not something in my head at all. 0.0 percent. I said on February 1st, I'd like to play football, I'd like to show what I can do, I'd like to be an important part of the team. Knowing that I only signed a contract for five months, and what happens after that, well, you can't draw any kind of conclusions after three weeks, positive or negative. I can't say everything's great and I'd love two more years, and I can't say everything's bad and I don't want to do it anymore - neither is the case. My focus is on the game on Saturday, then against Augsburg, then against Dortmund - I know it's a really tough situation, I know how much is riding on each game. People's jobs, Corona, the second division would be brutal. So I'm aware of all that, and I can't say what will happen in the summer. I can't even say where we're going on holiday, what am I doing here, or there. My family knows that, my friends know that. I need 100 percent of my energy, I need to be 100 percent here every day, and that 100 percent is going into Hertha and hopefully at the end of May we'll still be in the top flight and then we'll talk and everyone will give their opinion. But until then, 0.0 percent. Arne [Friedrich] said that too. We talk a lot, but we're talking about the current situation, not about contracts or extensions or anything."

On the headlines he wants to see in May...

Khedira: "About me personally, I don't want to read anything. I want to see 'Hertha Berlin stay in the top flight and have a bright future ahead'."