Origins are Irrelevant in Football
The professional footballer Sami Khedira holds a Tunisian and a German passport. Off the pitch, the 21-year-old midfielder from VfB Stuttgart supports integration projects. And it looks like we'll soon see him in the German kit. A portrait by André Tucic
At last Germany's dull winter break has come to an end. If it were up to Sami Khedira, it needn't have even started. The midfielder for VfB Stuttgart had an excellent first half of the football season. On the 17th day of Bundesliga matches, in a 2:2 draw against FC Bayern München, he played what was presumably the best game in his career to date, heading one goal and kicking another with a fantastic volley during extra time.
"It was a complete risk. With a ball like that, it either ends up in goal or in the river outside," Khedira said of December's goal of the month. A few days later, in a 3:0 home victory against Standard Lüttich in the group phase of the UEFA Cup, he scored again. From then on began the tiresome wait for the second half of the season – Germany's winter is too cold to play all the way through.
Model pupil with cups on the mantelpiece
Now that the season is finally kicking off again, Khedira can at last take up where he left off: impressing the whole of "football Germany" as the defensive midfield player with the best statistics of the season – five goals to his name so far.
Khedira is an excellent tackle strategist with great stamina and a portfolio of sly techniques. A home-grown talent from Stuttgart's own boarding school, he also has a reputation as a hard-working, ambitious and disciplined player. A model pupil, who played in the club's championship-winning B and A youth teams – and helped Stuttgart to the Bundesliga title in his very first season as a professional.
Soon on the German squad?
And his career looks pretty bright: Khedira has played for VfB Stuttgart in 60 Bundesliga matches, and the German Football Federation has had a watchful eye on his skills. He has played ten matches for the national Under-21 squad, scoring five goals.
And he may well soon play a key role with the big guns on the national team. He was supposed to have his first chance to shine in the German kit back in August 2007. Khedira was nominated for the England-Germany game but was injured shortly beforehand.
There followed a patch of bad form, the only low period in his career to date. But for Khedira, that's all part of maturing as a player. "My self-esteem doesn't depend on whether I get five slams at the ball on the pitch or three goals," he says with confidence.
The Tunisian option
If he had chosen to play for Tunisia, where his father comes from, he would have been on the national team for a good few years now. But Khedira never even thought about that option.
"Manners in Tunisia are much looser than in Germany. I always notice that when I see children there, who grow up more freely. They're raised differently and they're more cheeky. I can't really relate to their mentality."
And no wonder – Khedira grew up in sheltered Oeffingen in southern Germany.
Integration through sport
Off the pitch, Khedira occasionally adopts the role of a travelling salesman for integration projects, for example representing VfB Stuttgart in the campaign "Ball Work – integration through football". The player went to schools and talked with young people about his own experiences of integration during his career.
Nationality plays no role in the world of football, performance is all that counts – anything else is irrelevant, the campaign proclaimed. As the sport becomes increasingly international, there is no other way to deal with the issue. Some German clubs don't even field a single player with a German passport any more. In Khedira's club VfB Stuttgart, there are players from twelve different nations.
He himself has never had problems with integration, says Sami Khedira; he never had the impression he was treated differently to the others because of his ethnic origin. "It's always a question of your own attitude," he says. "If you want to integrate it'll work out."
© Qantara.de 2009
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire