Khedira: I can get even better
Sami Khedira has enjoyed a whirlwind 12 months. Relatively unknown outside Germany prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the defensive midfielder's outstanding displays in South Africa earned him a dream move to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. One year on, FIFA.com spoke to the likeable 24-year-old about life in the Spanish capital, working with Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho and his role in the German national side.
FIFA.com: Sami Khedira, casting your mind back 12 months, what were the biggest problems you faced when you first moved to Madrid?
Sami Khedira: I wouldn't really say I had any problems. The uncertainty of what awaited me in Madrid was obviously something I thought about. It was the first time I'd left my usual environment and my home town of Stuttgart. I had to leave my friends and family behind. Still, I was always up for the challenge because the prospect of Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho was very appealing. The circumstances and the surroundings just felt right. The team made me feel very welcome and I quickly settled in. Everyone needs that to be happy and to be able to perform at their best.
How would you describe life in Madrid?
Everything is a lot bigger and a lot more multicultural. Life has a different structure to that in Germany. On average I sleep two hours less at night because that's the Spanish way of life. I have an afternoon nap, which is very welcome too. Basically it's a lot more relaxed, calm and easy-going. You can tell that the Spanish like to enjoy life and start every new day afresh. Of course our team is very ambitious, but when our work is done, we're able to enjoy life too.
You certainly didn't have any problems settling into the team. How satisfied were you with your first season at the Bernabeu?
I think my sporting development has been very positive indeed. To begin with I had to get used to the new system and understand what the coach expected of me. Fortunately I was able to do that very quickly, so I was in the team from the start and never lost my place. I'm very pleased with my development, but I know that I can get even better. I want to keep improving in my second year and increase my dominance and presence on the field - more like I do in the national team.
As you mentioned earlier, players require the right environment to produce their best performances. Who are the people you turn to for help and advice?
At the start, when I didn't speak a word of Spanish and barely knew what 'Hola' meant, Rafael van der Vaart was very important. He was always by my side because he can speak Spanish and German. When he left, Jerzy Dudek became very important too. Cristiano Ronaldo was also very helpful because we were able to converse in English. He offered me help both on and off the field.
What is Cristiano Ronaldo like as a person?
You should never judge people from afar. Obviously he is the best footballer in the world alongside Lionel Messi. Everyone wants their photo taken with him or an autograph and I think that's quite a strain on him. His way of playing football is very attractive but also quite provocative, but as soon as he's in the dressing room he's no longer the superstar. He's just Cristiano Ronaldo the person. He's very polite and respectful to others. He's also a very helpful and ambitious guy who always wants to win. He tries to live a normal life, as far as is possible for a person in his position.
Your coach Jose Mourinho is another very public figure. How would you describe him?
As soon as I spoke to him I had good idea of where this adventure might lead, and looking back it all turned reality. He's a hugely respectful person who will do anything for success. He lives for football and thinks about the team and how he can improve individual players 24 hours a day. Despite the incredible pressure he's under from all directions, he's always very pleasant to all of us. He talks to us a lot, not only about football, but also about private things. I've never experienced anything quite like it at this level. He knows exactly how to deal with his players - that's why he's so popular.
But even Jose Mourinho couldn't knock Barcelona off their perch last season...
We went into the season with the aim of winning three titles. I too moved to Madrid to win all three titles, the Champions League in particular. We didn't manage that, but we weren't far behind Barcelona in the league and we were unlucky to lose the Champions League semi-final. The Cup final against Barcelona was amazing. We had a good season but we need to keep improving if we are to reach our optimum. For a team with a new coach, a lot of new players and a new philosophy, I thought our first season was very positive. I'm sure we'd have won more titles if Barcelona hadn't been in such incredible form. Our aim has to be to challenge Barcelona and we're working on that every day in training. We just need a bit of fine-tuning.
In order to achieve their ambitions, Real have brought in a number of new players over the summer. One of them is Nuri Sahin, who also plays in your position. How will you deal with the increased competition for places?
I don't know if competition for places will increase. I think we've added further quality to the squad. We had five defensive midfielders at the start of last season and by the end there were only three. That isn't enough for a team like Real Madrid, who have so many competitive fixtures throughout the season. Obviously we need quality in the side and Nuri Sahin is a fantastic midfielder with an enormous amount of ability. If you want to win titles, you need to have strength in depth. Nuri will be a great addition to the squad.
Let's talk about the German national team. You and Bastian Schweinsteiger have very much established yourself as Joachim Low's choice paring in defensive midfield...
It just seems to work. We've become even more stable together since the World Cup even though we haven't had that much match practise together. I think we complement each other well. We can both read the game and bring some intelligence to proceedings. It's going well at the moment. We've got a big squad in the national team too, especially in defensive midfield.
You effectively replaced former captain Michael Ballack's in the national team. How does that feel?
I think it's a natural process. Some day a young player will break through and take my place. It's only human for a player to reach a point where they can't perform at their peak any more and a younger player will always come through. Michael was Germany's star man for years and a world-class player. I learned a lot from him. I've taken a lot of what I saw in him and applied it to my own game, especially his goalscoring. I really learned a lot from him.
Finally, what do you think makes the perfect defensive midfielder?
The modern defensive midfielder has to have almost everything. He needs to be able to defend and direct the players around him. Good passing and tackling are just as important as an ability to switch into attack mode. The perfect defensive midfielder is a mix of all those things.