Sami Khedira tore his right ACL during Germany’s draw with Italy on Saturday. The injury has spread shock waves from Berlin to Madrid and beyond because it affects so much of the soccer world.
The Germany and Real Madrid midfielder will likely miss the rest of the season. He has undergone surgery and faces several months of rehabilitation. While it’s doubtful that he’ll play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it’s almost certain that he will be nowhere near his best should he recover in time to participate in next summer’s tournament.
The injury will be a small blip in Khedira’s impressive career. He has demonstrated his durability over the years, playing regular games (for club and country) since the 2006-07 season. The 26-year-old should recover from this knee injury and reassume his role as a key player at one of soccer’s leading clubs and the international powerhouse that is Germany’s national team. But that may not happen before next August, and a lot can change between now and then.
For Real Madrid and Germany, Khedira’s injury starts a race against time that they are unlikely to win. Fans of rival clubs and national teams may take this as good news, but Real Madrid and Germany fans, as well as neutrals and World Cup aficionados, will suffer. Khedira’s loss dents the hopes that two excellent teams have of winning two of the sport’s most prestigious tournaments.
Real Madrid has yet to play its best soccer under first-year manager Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian tactician is still trying to figure out which midfield players provide the balance between defense and attack required to beat the best teams in Spain and Europe. Losses against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona show that Real Madrid must improve if it is to claim domestic supremacy and win the coveted “decima” (its next UEFA Champions League title will be the 10th in its history).
Khedira has played 15-games (in all competitions) this season, and it will be much harder for Real Madrid to achieve its goals without the hard-working German. He, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso were expected to form a dynamic midfield trio, which Ancelotti hoped would overwhelm opponents with their energy, intelligence, strength and quality. One of three young players — Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Casemiro — must assume a great deal of responsibility in Khedira’s absence, but none appear to have earned the manager’s full trust after three months of competitive action. Real Madrid could look to sign a reinforcement during the January transfer window, but it’s unlikely that a selling club would be willing to part ways with a player of Khedira’s level during the season. Most players of his standard — a world-class two-way midfielder — have already appeared in this season’s Champions League and would be ineligible to play for Real Madrid for the remainder of the competition.
Khedira’s uncertain future was the source of some unease at Real Madrid before Saturday’s calamity. His knee injury will only increase the angst. Khedira’s contract expires in 2015, and he will be on the sidelines as he nears the final year of his current deal. Ancelotti and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez showed how highly they value him in September when they rejected Manchester United’s reported £34 transfer million ($54.8 million) offer. Just two weeks ago, Real Madrid was set to offer him a two-year extension and a £1 million raise ($1.6 million) to secure his future, according to the Mirror.
It’s unknown what effect Khedira’s injury will have on Real Madrid’s negotiating stance. Making the reported offer despite his injury would be an extraordinary show of faith, which could strengthen the bond between player and club. However, it would come with an element of risk, as there is an outside chance that Khedira won’t rediscover his best form after the injury. That unlikely scenario would see Real Madrid paying a high salary to a player whose best days are in the past.
If Real Madrid cancels negotiations, it could fuel Khedira’s misgivings about life in Spain. A month ago, he blasted the Spanish media in a German magazine for not showing him enough respect, according to Football Espana.
“I’m never going to be one of the favorites with the Spanish media,” he told Kicker. “I started the season on the bench or in the stands and now I am once again the scapegoat.
“Even if I turn in a good performance I’m not valued. I’m not a Spanish player, didn’t cost a lot of money and am a disciple of [Jose] Mourinho. I feel mistreated and I regret they treat me like that but it does not make me unhappy.
“I’m not going to be loved by the Press. All I’m asking for is respect and right now that’s not happening.”
Should Khedira want to leave Real Madrid, a number of clubs would jockey for his services. United already bid for him and would likely do so again. Arsenal, Manchester City and French club PSG have also been linked with him, but his previous ties to Mourinho could give Chelsea the edge in any transfer race. Mourinho sanctioned Real Madrid’s 2010 purchase of Khedira and depended on him during his three-year spell as the Spanish soccer giant’s manager. If he doesn’t sign a contract extension before the close of next summer’s transfer window (and actually wants to leave the Spanish capital), Khedira would be available at a steep discount. A lucky club could land a £35 million ($56.4 million) player for around half that amount and reap the benefits if and when he fully recovers from the torn ACL.
One can argue that Khedira’s injury hits Germany hardest. “Die Mannschaft” as Germany’s national team is known, is among the favorites to win the 2014 World Cup, like Real Madrid, losing Khedira makes the goal much more difficult to reach. Khedira was ever-present in Germany’s runs to the semifinals of both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. He was expected to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil in the heart of Germany’s midfield. That may or may not happen now. It would take a medical and psychological feat for Khedira to be at peak form and fitness next summer. Sven Bender, Lars Bender or even the incomparable Philipp Lahm (a fullback by trade) could take a starting spot, but it’s more likely that Germany manager Joachim Low will look to Toni Kroos to power the German engine. However it turns out, Germany will be a weaker than it would have been with a fit and sharp Khedira.
World Cup fans will lose also lose something because of Khedira’s knee injury. The 2014 World Cup could have been his moment, as his blend of age and experience would have put him in the position to be on of the tournament’s stand-out performers. He isn’t a flashy player, doesn’t score many goals, and his contributions for Real Madrid and Germany are often overlooked. But his importance is there for all to see, as his teams have reached the semifinal of every major international competition since the summer of 2010.
Khedira is one of the world’s elite “water carriers” — those players who disrupt opponents’ attacks with their running, tackling and positioning and help their teams create scoring chances by playing simple, accurate passes to the playmakers and goal scorers. They often go unnoticed until the intensity of the World Cup spotlight shows the global audience just how important their work is — as far as winning and losing soccer games is concerned.
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Photo via Facebook/Sami Khedira