Sami Khedira decided to call time on his illustrious career at the end of May, after successful spells with the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as the German national team.
The World Cup winner’s career went to another level after Jose Mourinho decided to sign him for Real Madrid, a story that Khedira looks back on with fondness.
MARCA sat down with the former Los Blancos midfielder to discuss various key points of his career.
Have you gotten used to the idea of not playing football again?
It is a process that you have to go through, it takes time. This is not an overnight decision, I have left what I love the most and I have to get used to it little by little. My body was no longer able to continue playing at the highest level and at this moment I had to leave it, it is for the best.
If I can’t give it my all, it’s best to step aside. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, talking about it with my family. Right now, the feeling is strange. On the one hand, you are sad, of course, because you will not play anymore, but on the other, you look at what you have achieved and you feel a lot of happiness and pride. I had a fantastic run.
Did you dream of going so far in football as a child?
I wanted to be a footballer and the dream was to play a game in the top tier. And I played for my hometown team and won a Bundesliga (scoring the title-clinching goal). But then Real Madrid arrived, imagine. Madrid changed everything in my life; I could have never imagined playing for this great club. I played with the best players in the world, I had the best coaches, we won incredible things… it was another dimension.
Do you remember how the transfer to Madrid came about?
Perfectly. Spain had just eliminated us from the World Cup in South Africa and I was down. We were all very sad because that generation deserved a final. I was affected by it, it didn’t get out of my head and suddenly I received a call.
“Sami, Madrid want you and Mourinho are going to call you.”
It’s a f***ing joke, I thought. I am not in the mood for these things now. “Mou is going to call you,” my agent insisted.
“You’re going to Real Madrid!”
My whole body changed suddenly. I was very nervous and my main concern was my English because at that time I did not speak it. And while I was nervous, Mourinho called me and I asked him if we could talk by text! He laughed and said sure. He told me that he wanted me for Real Madrid, and not to doubt it. And that conversation changed my career. Mourinho is the best thing that has happened to me.
And what great times you had with Mourinho…
Incredible! My first years at Madrid were of incredible intensity. The Clasicos of the first year were historic.
The first was very hard. It was my first Clasico too and we lost 5-0. How tough it was… but that made us better. Mourinho took a step forward with the team from then and we were more competitive. Another Madrid woke up at that time and we showed up in the following matches.
The Copa del Rey that we won was incredible, what a game, what a way to play. They were games in which you suffered a lot on the field, but at the same time, you enjoyed everything that was experienced on the field, in the dressing room, the preparation…
Did you feel the Champions League slipped you by under Mourinho?
We were very close, yes. That team was incredible, with a lot of quality, grit and passion. We won LaLiga in a wonderful, impeccable way, and in the Champions League, we lacked a bit of luck.
And then Carlo Ancelotti arrived…
He was completely different to Mourinho. He helped me to continue evolving, to play differently. He gave me a lot of confidence, he told me to play and to get into the opposition area more, [and told me] that I could score more goals. And I did it. He made the team feel like a family and he took care of us all.
He started you in the Champions League final only for you to suffer a knee injury…
I will never forget it. I broke down and due to the extent of it I was to miss the World Cup in Brazil. But I said: I have to get there. They operated on me and I locked myself in a clinic in Germany to recover. I lived there, in the clinic, recovering at all hours. It was an effort that nobody knows about. I was alone there, in the clinic with the doctors and the physios.
But there was also Carlo [Ancelotti]. From the time I got injured until I went back to training at Madrid, he called me every day. One day after another, like when your father calls you. I already expected the coach’s call every day, because he never failed. He had 23 players, and on top of the thousands of problems a coach has, the pressure, his family, and yet he called me every day to chat with me.
That shows what a person Ancelotti is…
One day I said to him, “Boss, this seems incredible to me,” and I thanked him.
And he said to me, “Sami, we are a family and you are alone in the hospital. How could I not call you! We are all with you.”
And he started you in Lisbon against Atletico
I started training, and Xabi Alonso was out of the final due to suspension. One day he approached me and he said, “If you’re okay, I’m going to put you in the final.”
He gave me two games before and I felt like I had to be honest with him, so I told him I was at 60 percent, nothing more.
“I know, but you are used to these games, you will do well. I need experienced players there. And you have [Luka] Modric and [Angel] Di Maria by your side, calm down.”
He had it all figured out.
It was not the best game of my life, really, but I will never forget it and when [Sergio] Ramos scored the goal in the final…
And now Ancelotti is back at Madrid
It’s good news. Apart from the titles, I remember that we played very good games, very good football. A second spell is never easy, I think, but with six years that have already passed, I am sure that he can do well. It seems like a great idea for Madrid.
You played in midfield with Xabi Alonso, Modric, Di María, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos. With whom did you enjoy playing with the most?
It was with Xabi Alonso that I learned the most. I came to Madrid as a youngster and playing alongside him… for me, he was the best No. 6. Really, his career was incredible and I learned a lot. And then there was Mesut, what a player! How he moved, what quality, what control, what passes to Cristiano [Ronaldo]…
Is Cristiano the best player you’ve played with?
Yes, he is an incredible goal scorer. His goals and his numbers say it all. But I have also had incredible goalkeepers like Gigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, who are legends of football. Buffon is also one of the best people I have met in the world of football, it is incredible what a good guy he is.
I’ve played with Ramos, one of the best centre-backs in the world and of all time. And Ozil’s three years at Madrid? Let people take those three years and review what he did and how he played football. What Mesut did at Madrid was wonderful, the best I’ve ever seen.
What memories do you have of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu?
For me it is the best stadium, it is incredible. The fans are very close, almost on top of us and sometimes it is not easy. I know that the Bernabeu liked the most elegant players and sometimes it was not easy, but in the end, they valued my overall game, my work, my professionalism and for that, I am very grateful.
When you need the Bernabeu [crowd], they show up. I will never forget the night against Borussia Dortmund. We didn’t make it to the final, but it was the most incredible atmosphere I have ever experienced.
Why did you leave Real Madrid?
It was sad to leave Madrid; I knew I was at the best club in the world. I also lived in an incredible city, and I won titles. I gave it my all until the last day, but it was time to leave. You just know when that moment comes and personally another club and another country were good for me in order to grow. I love Real Madrid and I cried when I left. I remember taking a walk through Madrid at night, by myself, remembering everything. It was difficult. But Juventus called me and I felt it was a change that would make me grow.
What message do you want to send to the Madridistas?
That I am very proud to have represented the badge, that I will always be a Madridista, that I will watch games at the Bernabeu again one day and that I gave everything in every game. I hope people remember me fondly.