Mr. Khedira, you started playing for Juventus Turin last summer and soon earned the nickname “il tedesco,” (“the German”). How do you feel about this?
It’s a reference to my straightforward and determined style of play. Nothing is below my dignity on the pitch, and the Italians appreciate that. Soccer isn’t always intricate and spectacular. It’s also order, discipline and hard work, virtues often ascribed to the Germans. Even so, it sometimes makes me laugh.
To me it was my father, from Tunisia, who embodied those values. Punctuality, discipline and determination were all important to him. He moved to Germany and internalized the culture and mentality.
You were 23 when you transferred from Stuttgart to Real Madrid, the world’s most glittering soccer club. Was it hard to make the switch?
Not at all. It doesn’t take me long to get used to new places; they interest me and I soon fit in with my surroundings. My Spanish teammates made it easy for me.
In which way?
The Spaniards are very laid back and open. They love their siesta and know how to enjoy life. Family is very important to them – and these are all things I can identify with.
And what about Spanish soccer?
That was a breeze. Real Madrid’s ambition is to win every game and every title – and to do it every year. Spanish people love soccer and as a player, the spotlight is always on you. There’s always tremendous pressure to perform.
What’s different in Turin?
At Juve, a lot of individual work is put into getting the best out of every single player. Tactics are generally big in Italy, but what I mean is the physical requirements. There are lots of performance tests and diet plans. Everything humanly possible is done to achieve top fitness.
Has living abroad changed you?
It’s made me more mature. You learn different approaches to things and step out of your comfort zone, which helps
you grow. I have always wanted to retain my natural openness because I’m convinced that it helps you develop as a person. I’m lucky that this fits in so well with my job and that I can play for some of the world’s best clubs.
Can you describe a particular experience?
Tolerance is important, because there are many ways to achieve the same goal. In the locker room, for instance: I used to be unable to even picture preparing mentally for a game with loud music and dancing going on around me. But many of my African and South American colleagues do so in exactly this way. They have trouble understanding that we Europeans prefer peace and quiet when preparing to appear before thousands of spectators.
Soccer is order, discipline and hard work
What aspects of your career have influenced you most?
You learn more from defeats and setbacks than when everything goes perfectly because you are far more likely to question yourself and what you did. In the euphoria of success, you tend to get a little lazy.
Do you still have a connection to your hometown, Stuttgart?
I soon settle in no matter where I go, but Stuttgart is home. I was glad to get away at first because the typical German thoroughness we talked about sometimes got on my nerves. I often wished people were more relaxed. But from a distance, I began to appreciate dependability and precision.
For the world champion, there is really only one goal at the EURO 2016 …
We want to win, of course. The problem lies with the way titles are taken for granted. The world champion is expected to win the European championship. Public pressure has increased enormously, but our team can handle that. We know what it takes to win: growth as a team and a little bit of luck.
When the German national team hit a rough patch in the qualifying tournament, you attracted attention for you admonishing tone. What role do you see yourself playing on the national team?
I don’t say much in public, but over the past years, I have taken on some team responsibilities. A handful of us share these, those of us with the experience and a feel for getting the emphasis just right. Every team needs leaders, in soccer and in the business world.
Aside from Germany, who is tipped to win the EURO title?
France has a very strong team, and with the entire country behind it, it’s a hot favorite. Then we have the usual suspects: Spain, Italy and England. And let’s not forget Belgium, a hungry young team with star players from all the top leagues.