After spending much of the last six months sidelined with a knee injury, Sami Khedira faced an uphill battle to simply even make Germany’s provisional World Cup squad. Bundestrainer Joachim Low has a host of exciting game-changers like Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil or Thomas Mueller at his disposal—yet the unassuming Khedira is likely to be his surprise weapon at the forthcoming World Cup.
Khedira is fresh, confident and, more importantly, nearing full fitness.
The 27-year-old midfielder will travel to Brazil full of zest after helping to deliver the long-awaited “Decima”—a 10th UEFA Champions League (European Cup) for his club side Real Madrid. Khedira replaced the suspended Xabi Alonso in Real’s starting 11 in the dramatic victory over Atletico Madrid.
4 – Sami Khedira became the 4th German player to win the Champions League with a non-German club (Völler, Illgner, Hamann). Hungry.— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) May 24, 2014
It's been a long road to recovery for the 27-year-old, who tore the cruciate ligament of his right knee during an unfortunate tangle with bearded-maestro Andrea Pirlo in Germany's friendly against Italy last November.
That horrible injury restricted the Stuttgart-born midfielder to just 23 games for club and country in 2013/14. That is the fewest number of games played by any member of Germany’s star-studded squad. Only Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski has spent less time on the pitch than Khedira’s 1,786 minutes.
Germany’s rock in the middle of the pitch showed real mental toughness to recover from such a serious injury.
Thankfully for Low and Germany, Carlo Ancelotti has been slowly easing Khedira back into action. He finally made his return for Real, 177 days after injury, in the Los Blancos defeat at Celta Vigo. He made another start against Espanol, before helping seal the biggest club prize in European football with another hour on the clock in Lisbon.
“Sammy” started his career with his hometown club VfB Stuttgart, making his breakthrough in the Bundesliga-winning season of 2006/07. Khedira, who has a German mother and Tunisian father, moved to the Bernabeu on a five-year deal after catching the eye of the then Real manager Jose Mourinho at the 2010 World Cup.
Philipp Lahm may be the captain, but Khedira is arguably Low’s leader and talisman.
A visibly emotional Low reacted to the injury blow in Italy, telling DFB TV that “it’s a bitter blow. He’s a natural born fighter and big personality.”
Khedira is key to “Die Mannschaft’s” defensive stability. Germany have conceded 39 goals (0.88 per game) during his 44 appearances.
Without their solid No. 6 in the line-up (up to that nasty injury in Milan) this rate almost doubled to 28 goals in 16 games (1.75).
Tellingly, he missed the remarkable 4-4 qualifying draw against Sweden where Germany let slip a four-goal lead.
Raphael Honigstein hinted recently in his ESPN FC column at certain cliques in the German camp.
Last week’s controversial cup final in Berlin will do little to dampen any simmering ill feeling between the large Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich fractions in the squad.
Importantly, Khedira has no previous Bayern or BVB baggage.
So the midfielder has a vital role off the pitch too—acting as mediator to iron out any potential differences, bringing the two fractions together in the interests of a common goal: World Cup success.
Others may be more likely to catch the eye with their trickery, but Khedira is the embodiment of a team player.
“Sammy” told German magazine Stern in South Africa: “I work my ass off, so that the team is successful. I enjoy doing the dirty work. I do Mesut Ozil’s running and he’s the match-winner. This is what happened at the European U21 Championships.” Khedira captained Germany’s youngsters to the 2009 title in Sweden.
Germany’s problems in defensive midfield are mounting. Lars Bender was cruelly ruled out with a thigh injury. Bastian Schweinsteiger has battled niggling injuries all season and currently has a knee problem, while Lahm is also recovering from an ankle injury incurred during the cup final.
Khedira has timed his return to perfection and is set for a starring role in Brazil.