Sami Khedira recently retired from professional football after a glittering career. The German won a World Cup and was part of the Real Madrid team that won the coveted La Decima Champions League trophy. Khedira has worked part time as a pundit and analyst for ESPN and recently took to the airwaves to talk with Gab Marcotti and Julien Lauren on their ESPN FC podcast, The Gab & Jules show. Among the many topics discussed, Khedira shared several anecdotes on his career at Real Madrid. Below is a transcript of some of the questions asked and the answers provided from the former German international.
Q: Were you a stand out at 14? Or, were you still a similar player to many of those around you?
Khedira: “Some of my teammates were better technically, but if you want to take the step from the kid’s game to the real game, professionally at top level, you need to have the mentality. If you are talented, but you have no mentality — you don’t get it.”
Q: What age were you when you looked around to your team and said that guy’s better than me?
Khedira: “Kevin Price Boateng at the youth national team at the U15 level. He was better than everyone. So talented, I thought this guy has to be top 5 in the world. He could play every position. But what I am talking about - mentality — you have to work. It’s just the beginning as a young talent.”
Q: What happened after the World Cup in 2010?
Khedira: “After the loss to Spain, I was really upset. I was down and thinking maybe playing against Spain was a step too far for Germany. Then I got a text from my brother. He said ‘Mourinho called you’. I said, ‘What!’, and he said ‘yes he wants you to be his #6’”.
Q: You didn’t think a club like Real Madrid or Mourinho would come for you?
Khedira: “No I was very young, and I didn’t think so. But then I had a call with Jose and he said, ‘yeah you are an amazing player and an amazing guy, I want you to join me at Real Madrid’. My agent I then flew to Madrid. We had the talks, but they only took one or two minutes. Jose said, ‘what are your expectations?’ I said I want to win. And he said, ‘That’s great, I’ll see you in Los Angeles in two weeks’... and that was it! I said to my agent, ‘that’s not a good sign’. We came all the way to Madrid and after 1 minute we go back. But my agent said it was perfect, we will talk later.”
Q: What was it like at Real Madrid?
Khedira: “Going to Madrid was one of the best experiences of my life. To meet Jose and to work with him was great. He opened the door to the highest level of football. I still remember my first training session, it was at UCLA, he told me our matches will be 90 minutes, so our training will be 90 minutes and all with the ball. I thought that was great as it would be easy compared to Germany where we always run. But after the first session, I was dead. It was constant - 10 v 10, 6v6 — no break if the ball goes out. I was so tired, but happy because we always had the ball. You had to run and you had to think.”
“After that session, we get back to the bus — and he was just two rows ahead of — and he texted me, “You are an amazing player, look at my lineup for tomorrow. You are going to start tomorrow”. I looked around after I got the text and saw him looking back at me smiling. He was amazing and gave me so much confidence. He needed me to perform the work for the other geniuses on the pitch. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Q: Was the rivalry with Barcelona too heated at that time?
Khedira: “To be honest, I really enjoyed the rivalry with Barcelona. It was bigger than just the two teams and there were so many narratives. It was always really special. The whole world waited for this game. Maybe it was too much on a personal level, but it pushed both teams. They were some of the best game I have ever played in”
Q: What was it like playing against that Barcelona team, were they really THAT good?
Khedira: “Even as a Madridista, I can say that the Barcelona team from 2010 was one of the best teams ever. Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets never lost the ball. You cannot get the ball, but you have to find solutions — we had to anticipate. If you get the ball, they won’t be organized, so immediately we attacked. We had 10 or 12 Clasicos and we only lost 2. So this was our tactic.”
Q: It seemed to all fall apart with Mourinho in the third season. If you could go back and time and say something to Mourinho to avoid that situation, what would it be?
Khedira: “At the end, let’s say there were too many egos in the locker room. The egos overcame the spirit of the locker room and the locker room was lost. Maybe it was normal after two intense years. We spoke about winning Clasicos, the Copa Del Rey, La Liga — with record of goals and points. The players got tired of it. In the 3rd season, we went out vs Dortmund and we were 2nd or 3rd in La Liga. People were tired of the leadership.”
Q: What was the change like going from Mourinho to Ancelotti?
Khedira: “Carlo Ancelotti is that kind of coach - you see him in the images as angry or grumpy, but he is one of the nicest people I have ever met in football. There was more space to breathe with Ancelotti. He tried to bring his idea into the team, but the team was not ready for it — so he waited for it.”
Q: You are a rare breed, you had the chance to work with Cristiano at two different phases of his career. What was that like?
Khedira: “I met two Cristiano’s — the first at Real Madrid, a bit younger, and maybe a bit more insecure and selfish. Not in a bad way, but he had to find his personality. He scored many, many goals and was fantastic, but he did not have that much influence on the team. Then my second experience with Cristiano, at Juventus, he comes to the team and he has that same selfishness that ego to score, but he was more a leader — more a natural leader. He always pushed us and he knew he needed his teammates support to win trophies. Don’t misunderstand me, he was always a a part of the team at Madrid, but at Juventus he was a bit more mature. Always focused on the pitch, but a bit more relaxed after having kids. He’s so competitive and the level of performance just got higher and higher. In training, everyone wanted to beat Cristiano or if you were in his team, you wanted to help Cristiano win.”
Q: Did you ever expect to play in a UCL final after suffering a major ACL tear in the same season?
“After the ACL injury, I was not thinking about the the Champions League final. I had just come back, but Carlo Ancelotti told me that I had to play in the final. Xabi Alonso was suspended. I told Carlo, ‘C’mon I may be 60-70% of my level’. And he said, ‘I need you on the pitch.’
A week before the game I had a shower before training and Cristiano came in and said, ‘Sami we need you.’ ‘I don’t care if you are 70% - we need you on the pitch, you are better than the others. We need you’. That gave me so much confidence, it was so special to hear that from Cristiano.
To hear the full interview with Khedira, use the link below or search for the Gab & Juls show in your podcast feed.