Sami Khedira has achieved enough throughout his career to have scrapbooks full to bursting with headlines and newspaper clippings, but the Juventus midfielder is the quintessential humble, unsung hero
Often a measure of a player's influence is not the number of goals or assists they make, or the opposition attacks they thwart, but in their stealthily silent steadying presence on the field. Khedira is such a star; rarely in the limelight, content to let trophies and accolades speak for him.
A total of 13 years since making his professional debut in the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart, Khedira has an enviable list of achievements, all earned in his almost inimitable, humble manner.
Khedira lets his actions do the talking, and they speak volumes.
Almost an end before a beginning
Born in Stuttgart in 1987, Khedira caught the eye of Stuttgart's talent scouts at the age of eight, while playing for TV Oeffingen. The Baden-Württemberg club's youth academy being the envy of many in Germany, Khedira did not need to be invited twice to his hometown club, where he quickly marched his way up through the youth ranks to appear for the Swabians' reserve team. The rise might have been a bit too meteoric, for it almost cost Khedira his career.
Watch: Khedira and the Stuttgart production line
As he was on the verge of making his first-team debut under then coach Giovanni Trapattoni, Khedira injured his knee so badly, surgery was required – without any guarantee of resolving the issue. Indeed, Khedira was just 17 when he was told his knee was never going to be strong enough for a professional career. "I was under shock and couldn't believe it," he told spox.com. "If I'd needed one more operation, I would have had to quit."
Quit he did not, though the setback was a big one for the young midfielder. "When you're out for so long, people stop considering you," Khedira recalled. "There's nobody there to support you." Rather than capitulating, Khedira took strength from the toughest time of his life, which proved to be a pivotal moment. "It wasn't easy as a teenager to suffer through rehabilitation work while everybody else is out on the field, but I never gave up and always believed I would make it."
That never-say-die attitude and determination served him well as Khedira broke into the Stuttgart first team at a key moment in the club’s history. Playing in the same side as the likes of Timo Hildebrand, Thomas Hitzlsperger, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Cacau and a 20-year-old Mario Gomez, Khedira made 22 Bundesliga appearances in 2016/17. Not only that, but in the final match of the season, he scored his side’s second goal in a 2-1 victory over Energie Cottbus, a result which gave Stuttgart their first Bundesliga title in 15 years. Sami Khedira had arrived on the big stage.
Stuttgart may not have repeated the success they enjoyed that year, but Khedira quietly established himself as the team’s heartbeat, dictating play from the centre of the pitch, and attracting many admirers from across Europe’s top leagues.
In 2010, one of those admirers took their interest to the next level: Newly-appointed Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho brought Khedira in to run the engine room as part of his overhaul at the Bernabeu.
The midfielder quickly became one of the main men in Madrid; his assured control of proceedings as the anchor man in Real’s midfield being a cornerstone of Mourinho’s approach. In his second year in Spain, Khedira claimed his second national title as Real won La Liga with a record 100 points and an unprecedented 15-point lead over arch rivals Barcelona in second. Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Karim Benzema, Kaka, and Gonzalo Higuain might have been the stars of the team, but they would not have been able to become such a deadly attacking unit without Khedira
Having won his second top-tier title, only elite cup competition remained for Khedira to conquer. Ahead of the 2013/2014 season, Real Madrid brought in cup specialist coach Carlo Ancelotti in a bid to deliver La Decima, the long-coveted tenth UEFA Champions League triumph. In the early stages of the season, Khedira remained the understated genius at the centre of the pitch, but his season was cruelly derailed by an injury to his cruciate ligament, requiring extensive treatment and a long absence.
As Real progressed deeper into the latter stages of the Champions League, fortune smiled upon Khedira after he had worked tirelessly to get back to match fitness. "I travelled to the second leg of our semi-final against Bayern Munich and just before the end, Xabi Alonso got an unnecessary yellow card and I thought to myself 'that means his place is available in the final' and that gave me yet more motivation. I knew I had a chance, and I made it – it was a special moment for me."
Khedira started the final in Lisbon, celebrated the eventual 4-1 win for Real over city rivals Atletico Madrid, and added the Champions League to his growing list of trophies won.
Craving something new
Another major trophy was to follow just a few months later as Khedira inspired Germany, in his own silent yet effective role, to victory at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Mario Götze may have taken the headlines with his final-winning goal, but Khedira helped lay much of the groundwork before another injury denied him his place in the final, but could not stop him celebrating with his countrymen.
Having reached the zenith of his career, Khedira still saw room for improvement and accepted another challenge in a foreign land, this time at Italian giants Juventus. "I craved something new, and Juve were back to their best: winning Serie A year on year, playing in Champions League finals – a new country, new language, new culture," Khedira said. "I knew I could play a role here and I was at an age where I had high demands of myself of taking responsibility and becoming a lead figure. It was just the ticket."
With Juve, Khedira has become even more versatile, filling the boots of the departed Arturo Vidal and following in the footsteps of another Juve legend before him: Andrea Pirlo. Trained in the Italian school by Massimiliano Allegri, his game gained nuances which even led to him becoming a more prolific goalscorer; making a more tangible contribution to Juve completing a record-breaking run of seven straight Scudettos. Six goals in five seasons in Spain were almost matched in his first year in Serie A alone, when he netted five. A further five followed in 2016/17, before his personal best single-season haul of nine in 2017/18.
The 2018/2019 campaign was less successful for him due to a series of unfortunate injuries that greatly restricted his playing time. Nonetheless, his two goals in only 10 appearances suggest that, when he is fit, Khedira’s late-career dynamism has not deserted him.
Ahead of the 2019/2020 season, Khedira’s trophy cabinet contains a mighty impressive haul of silverware: one Bundesliga title, one La Liga crown, two Copas del Rey, one Spanish Super Cup, four Scudettos, three Coppa Italias, one Italian Super Cup, a pair of FIFA Club World Cups, a UEFA Super Cup, the Champions League, and, of course, the World Cup.
Khedira does not make a song and dance about it, though, even if he would have every right to do so. "I want people to remember me as a fair, ambitious and absolutely professional footballer and person," he said about the legacy he would like to leave.
Those are values he learned and honed in his early days, when Sami Khedira was made in the Bundesliga.
Lee Turner Kodak