In a 2-2 draw in the October 2006 Bundesliga match between VfB Stuttgart and Hertha BSC, midfielder Antônio da Silva walked off the pitch, brought off by manager Armin Veh toward the end of the encounter. His replacement was a 19-year-old midfielder making his professional debut at senior level. Three years later, England beat Sweden 5-4 on penalties in the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-final, but they were swept aside by Germany, losing 4-0 in the final.
That night, goals from Gonzalo Castro, Mesut Özil and a brace from Sandro Wagner stole the headlines, but the win was marshalled expertly by the captain of the Germany side. As the German skipper held the trophy aloft, defeated England midfielders Mark Noble and Lee Cattermole probably knew who it was who dominated the game so easily, and allowed Germany the platform for their victory.
That young man was Sami Khedira, and since then, he’s climbed to new heights in the professional game, becoming a world champion at international level, as well as a European champion at club level. When you consider that Sami Khedira has also won the title in each of the three domestic leagues he’s played in, on the occasion of his 30th birthday, Sami Khedira has a fantastic case for being the most influential player of the last 10 years.
Making his debut near the outset of the 2006/07 Bundesliga season, Sami Khedira became a league champion, as the unfancied VfB Stuttgart made an astonishing charge for the title. With his dynamism, aerial prowess, as well as underrated passing and shooting ability, Stuttgart were able to compete with the very best in the middle of the park, and this was undoubtedly in part to the youngster Khedira. Although Stuttgart were unable to defend their title in the 2007/08 season, Sami Khedira made the Mercedes-Benz Arena an intimidating place for any away team.
After his star turn in the Under-21 Championships in 2009, Sami Khedira was an integral part of the senior Germany team that excelled in South Africa a year later. This young and exciting Germany side announced themselves on the world stage when they thrashed both England and Argentina on the way to the latter stages, before losing out to eventual winners Spain in the semi-final. Khedira was an ever-present throughout the 2010 World Cup campaign, and scored a late winner in the third place-playoffs as Germany dispatched surprise package Uruguay 3-2.
Khedira had truly announced himself on the world stage, and it wasn’t long before some of the biggest clubs in the world came calling. Shortly after his key role in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Sami Khedira was a Galactico. Moving to the Bernabeu for the 2010/11 season, Sami Khedira excelled for Real Madrid, and played a huge part in not only disrupting Barcelona’s domination of the Spanish game, but also in securing the previously elusive La Decima.
Starting the showpiece final in Lisbon, Real Madrid eventually overpowered their city rivals Atlético in extra time, thanks to Sami Khedira’s domination of the midfield. The performance was even more remarkable considering that the midfielder had torn his ACL in late 2013, and was not even expected to feature in the final.
Khedira had just become a Champions League winner, but 2014 had yet more surprises for the Stuttgart-born midfielder. At the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Germany finally fulfilled their immense potential when they became world champions for the first time as a unified nation.
The highlight of Germany’s triumph has to be their 7-1 annihilation of hosts Brazil in the semi-final, and Khedira netted the fifth goal in that demolition job, before preventing an unlikely comeback from the hosts with a stellar midfield performance.
With a Champions League and world title to his name, Sami was at the top of his game, but injuries derailed his 2014/15 season, as a series of problems caused Khedira to miss 18 of Real Madrid’s games that season. That season proved to be Khedira’s last at Real Madrid, and at the beginning of the 2015/16 season, he moved to Italian champions Juventus on a free transfer.
The Bianconeri had just lost their own midfield general in Andrea Pirlo, but the German star helped to soften the blow of losing the playmaker as Juventus won their fifth successive Serie A title. Now an elder statesman of the Germany side, Sami Khedira played a key role as Germany made another impressive march to the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2016, losing out to two goals from Antoine Griezmann as hosts France made the final.
Few players ever get to win Serie A, La Liga, the Bundesliga, the Champions League as well as the World Cup, and even fewer achieve the feat while still in their twenties. While strikers, goalkeepers and defenders are all crucial in winning tournaments, controlling the midfield is the best way for a team to establish a footballing dynasty.
As a crucial component of some of the outstanding international and club teams over the past decade, it’s hard to overlook Sami Khedira as one of the key players in shaping the game of football as we know it. Happy 30th birthday Sami Khedira; without you patrolling the midfield, the beautiful game simply wouldn’t be the same.