Khedira: "I saw two different sides to Cristiano Ronaldo"
The ex-midfielder looked back over his playing career in an interview with ESPN. "Cristiano is a competitor and if he loses, he gets angry".
Generally speaking, some football players tend to talk more openly once they have retired from the game than they might have done while they were active. Sami Khedira falls into that category. He hung up his boots in May last year, bringing to an end a career during which he enjoyed success at Real Madrid and Juventus. The German chatted to ESPN's Gab and Jules Meets podcast, and looked back over his playing days. Khedira recalled how he felt when he first joined Real Madrid, working under Jose Mourinho, when the bubble burst during the Portuguese coach's third season and playing alongside Cristiano...
Did you ever realize that a younger team mate was much better than you? “Kevin-Price Boateng in the national team at youth level, Under-15s. He was better than everyone else. So talented… I thought that this guy is going to be one of the five best players in the world. He could play in any position. But you have to work too. Having talent when you are young is just the start”.
What happened after Germany were eliminated at the 2010 World Cup? “After losing to Spain, I was really annoyed. I was depressed and thought that maybe playing against Spain was a step too far for Germany. But then I received a text message from my brother. He told me: 'Mourinho has called and wants to talk to you'. I said: 'What?'. And he replied: 'Yes, he wants you to be his No.6”.
Did you believe that Mourinho really wanted to sign you? “No, I was very young and I didn't believe it at first. But then I spoke on the phone with José and he told me: 'Yes, you are an incredible player and and incredible guy, I want you to join me at Real Madrid'. My agent flew out to Madrid. We chatted, but only for one or two minutes. José said: 'What are your expectations?' I told him that I wanted to win. And he replied: 'That's great, I'll see you in Los Angeles in a couple of weeks'... and that was that!"
How did you find life at Real Madrid? “Going to Madrid was one of the best experiences of my life. Getting to know José and working with him was great. It opened the door to the highest level of football. I still remember my first training session, it was at UCLA, they told me that as games lasted 90 minutes, our training sessions would last 90 minutes too and we would entirely with the ball. I thought that was great, it was easy compared to how things were done with Germany, where we did a lot of running. But after that first session, I was exhausted. It was non-stop: 10 against 10, six against six, with no rest even when the ball went out of play. I was so tired afterwards, but happy because we always worked with the ball. You need to run and you need to think. After that session, we went back to the team bus, and he was sat two rows ahead of me, he sent me a text message: ‘You are an incredible player, look at my line-up for tomorrow. You will start the game’. I looked around after reading the text message and I saw him looking at me and smiling. It was incredible and gave me a lot of confidence. I needed that to do my job alongside the genius players out on the pitch. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about that”.
The rivalry with Barça: “To be honest, I really enjoyed the rivalry with Barcelona. It was always very special. The whole world was waiting for that game. Maybe it got a bit much on a personal level, but both team pushed each other. They were some of the best games I ever played in”
What was it like playing against that Barcelona side? Were they really that good? “Even as a madridista, I can say that that Barcelona side in 2010 was one of the best teams in history. Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets never lost the ball. You could not get the ball off them, but you had to find solutions, we had to foresee what could happen. If you get the ball, they won't be organised, so you have to attack immediately. We played 10 or 12 Clásicos and only lost two. That was our tactic against them”.
It all fell apart in Mourinho's third season: “In the end, let's say that there were too many egos in the dressing room. The egos overtook the spirit of the dressing room. Maybe that was to be expected after two intense years. We're talking about winning Clásicos, the Copa del Rey, LaLiga, with new goals and points records. The players got tired of that. In the third season we were eliminated by Dortmund and finished second or third in LaLiga. People had grown tired of the leadership”.
Working with Cristiano at Madrid and Juventus: “I met two Cristianos. The first was at Real Madrid. He was a bit younger, maybe a bit more insecure and selfish - but not in a bad way, just like he had to find his personality I think. He scored many, many, many goals. He was fantastic. But he didn't has as much influence on the team. And then he moved to Juventus, in the second period of Cristiano. He had the same spirit, the same selfishness and ego that made him want to score, but he was more of a leader - more of a natural leader. So he always spoke to his team mates, pushing them and helping them be better because he knew he needed them to win the Scudetto. At Juventus, he was more mature. That was really nice to see. He had kids... He was relaxed but once he was on the pitch he was always focused. I told the guys at Juventus, 'Cristiano is special, but he's just a normal guy, and humble but he's special, so take care of him. In the locker room he is really relaxed but the pitch, you will see the performance levels going higher, and will see that from the first day'. So we had shooting practice and he always wants to win, so Ok, we'll bet on a bottle of wine, or we're playing four against four. It would be like, 'Cristiano, what shall we bet? A bottle of wine? 100 euros? or a bottle of wine. He's a competitor and when he lost, he got really pissed off. Because everyone wanted to beat Cristiano, or they wanted to help him win... So the performance levels just keep getting higher and higher - and this is also for Cristiano too”.