Sami Khedira talks to ESPN: Ronaldo as a teammate, Juve's rebuild, winning the World Cup

Sami Khedira discusses the 'two Cristiano Ronaldos' (2:05)

Former Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira talks about working with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and Juventus. (2:05)

You know Sami Khedira. You know the success with Real Madrid and Juventus, the World Cup with Germany, and maybe even the fairytale with Stuttgart that launched his career. And sure, Sami knows silverware: seven league titles, five domestic cups and a Champions League crown at the club level, plus a European Under-21 title and the 2014 World Cup with Germany.

But spend a couple hours in his company -- as Julien Laurens and I did for the Gab and Juls Meets podcast -- and you realize it's not the silverware that sticks with him the most. "It's not just about winning titles," he said. "It's the experiences and the amazing people I met. Human beings are what's most important."

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From Jose Mourinho to Carlo Ancelotti, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Mesut Ozil, from Jogi Loew to Maurizio Sarri, he's had plenty of human interaction. And has plenty to tell.


Khedira joined Real Madrid in 2010, a year after Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portugal star was already a Ballon d'Or winner and, at 24, was determined to be the brightest star on Florentino Perez's expensively assembled super club. Khedira met him again eight years later when Ronaldo joined him at Juventus and, in some ways, found a different person.

"I met two Cristianos," Khedira said. "The first was at Real Madrid. He was a bit young, a bit more insecure and selfish, too. Not selfish in a bad way -- just in the way young strikers are ... he had to find his personality. And then the second Cristiano, after he moved to Juventus ... he was much more of a leader. Still driven by ego and selfishness to score, but more about pushing his teammates, helping them be better. Off the pitch he was much more relaxed and much more mature, but on the pitch, always focused and just as intense.

"We saw it on the first day, taking shots on goal. He was so competitive, whether it was that or playing 4-on-4; he'd want to bet on it, say 100 Euros or a bottle of wine. He's a competitor and if he loses, he gets angry. So nobody wants to let him down."


Ralf Rangnick is a tactical visionary who made his name and influenced a generation of coaches with a distinct style. But now that he's working with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, it's he who has had to adapt, rather than forcing the Portuguese star into his system.

"I'm going to be honest, if you have Cristiano or [Lionel] Messi or Neymar [on your team], most of the time you defend with 10 men because they need some time to rest and they are not defenders," Khedira said.

Now he's with Rangnick at Manchester United and he's a coach who has a really intense pressing game, a bit like Jurgen Klopp. Except with Cristiano, it doesn't work. And because you want to win, you have to change your style of football a bit, change some of your ideas.

"[Jose] Mourinho did this, and [Carlo] Ancelotti did this too," Khedira said. "You have to give Ronaldo the ball in the box, you have to transmit the idea that I will fight for [Cristiano], I will run for him, I will do everything for him. Because at the end, he probably will score the winning goal and get you the three points. That's the compromise that you have with Cristiano."


In mid-November of 2013, Khedira suffered a serious ACL injury in a friendly against Italy while trying to foul Andrea Pirlo. Doctors told him he'd likely miss the rest of the season, and probably the World Cup. Khedira was determined to prove them wrong -- he attacked his rehabilitation like a warrior monk, isolating himself from friends and family and focusing only on getting better. By May, he was back in light training, but nowhere near match-fit.

Real Madrid were out of the running domestically, so he started a couple of games in LaLiga to try to regain fitness. In the meantime, the club had reached the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, and because Xabi Alonso was suspended, Ancelotti asked Khedira to play ...

"I was like Carlo, come on... I'm maybe 60 or 70% of my [best]," Khedira said. "He said they needed me. I said I'd think about it, but I knew I was struggling and I didn't want to hurt the team. Then I was taking a shower when Cristiano came in and asked me to play.

"I told him what I told Carlo: I wasn't fit, I need more time. Cristiano said he didn't care that I was at 60 or 70%. With Xabi Alonso out, he said I was better than the other options, and he told me how much they needed me. That was so special for me to get this confidence from Cristiano and from Carlo. And Carlo set up a system to help me, just playing easy balls, making sure I didn't have to run.

"It was so special for me to be on that pitch. I didn't have my best game, I came off after an hour, we were losing 1-0, but then we turned it around. And it was so amazing to know that I had their trust and we went on to win it."


Khedira arrived at Juventus in 2015 and won five consecutive Serie A titles, the first four under Max Allegri and the last, in 2019-20, under Sarri. But he feels the club lost something after signing Ronaldo in 2018 and then transitioning to Sarri, followed by Pirlo a year later.

It wasn't because they were poor managers -- he describes Sarri as "the best manager I've ever seen tactically" -- but because they pivoted away from a certain brand of football under Allegri and his predecessor, Antonio Conte.

"If you sign somebody like Ronaldo, you get one one of the best players in history, you get more revenue, more Instagram numbers, more shirt sales, but there's also a different kind of pressure," Khedira said. "And maybe you risk losing some of your identity, especially at a club like Juventus. Not because he's a bad signing, but because maybe he doesn't fit your identity. And Juventus has a strong identity.

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"In fact, I remember talking to Mourinho in 2016 and he told me how much he loved Juve because they were one of the last clubs with a really strong DNA. It was about hard work and defending: think of that back line with [Andrea] Barzagli, [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leo] Bonucci, or the midfield with me and [Claudio] Marchisio and [Blaise] Matuidi, all working hard in a certain way. And then you try to change and maybe you lose something, and some of the signings don't fit.

"I gave everything every day for the shirt, because that was the club's DNA. But when you try to change, sometimes you lose that focus. Sometimes you can't copy what others do. Pep Guardiola is fantastic, but he's Pep Guardiola. You can't copy that."


It will forever be remembered as one of the most surreal, absurd collapses on the biggest stage. Hosts Brazil were facing Germany in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup. By half-time, they were 5-0 down and would go on to lose 7-1. The crowd in Belo Horizonte was stunned beyond anger and depression; after all, nobody could have ever imagined something like this.

Khedira was out there for Germany and knew he was in uncharted territory. The words of his coach, Jogi Loew, at half-time helped bring a sense of calm to a team that had no blueprint for a situation nobody had envisioned.

"Loew was the most important part of the day," he said. "At half-time, he said if anybody has a go at them or lowers the level of their performance, or makes jokes about being 5-0 up, I will substitute them straight away and they will not play the final.

"He told us to take it serious and respect the Brazilian national team -- even more than that, respect the supporters and the country. We've had an amazing time here and it's not finished. We have to respect them, they are Brazil, we are Germany, we are equals. And maybe in a few years we will play them again and they will be the ones who are five-nil up. So we have to stay humble and respectful and end this in a good way.

"That's why the second half unfolded the way it did."