NYON, Switzerland (AP) — When Juventus asked players to take salary cuts and deferrals during the coronavirus pandemic, Sami Khedira’s curiosity in how the soccer industry works was reignited.
A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014 who spent five seasons at Real Madrid before joining the Italian club, Khedira said this week he was “always interested in the system."
The 34-year-old midfielder’s questions — why we have to travel, why we got paid, why Madrid could not show its betting sponsor on shirts in some countries — have led him to join a UEFA-led masters course that educates former players in business and management of the game.
When Juventus sought to save 90 million euros ($102 million) in March 2020 by restructuring salaries, Khedira wanted to understand the issue.
“I spoke to the president and asked him ‘Why? What are you doing with the money?’” Khedira, who retired from playing in May, told The Associated Press. “I asked how many employees Juventus has, so if they have to pay also because their salary is much less than we have. So how much (do) they earn?
“What do you do with the money? You buy new players or you solve the problems (so) that the club can survive?”
Juventus was a good place to learn how players can influence the industry off the field. The salary dispute during the pandemic was negotiated by defender Giorgio Chiellini, who has a master's degree in business. Former great Pavel Nedved is a club vice president.
The Juventus president that Khedira quizzed about the salary deal, Andrea Agnelli, also was a driving force behind the Super League project that threatened to upend European soccer in April.
“I know him quite well. In the point of view of Agnelli or Mr. Perez,” Khedira said, referring to another Super League leader, Madrid president Florentino Perez, “I completely understand what they would like to do. On the other side, the players or UEFA, they don’t like it.
“I always try to look on both sides,” he said, comparing it to FIFA’s current push to play World Cups every two years instead of four.
Khedira said he has been in Doha with FIFA and listened to their side, weighing the European view of being against the change with the soccer body's need to listen to other regions and their desire for opportunities to play on the biggest stage.
Among Khedira’s 28 classmates over the next two years are Nemanja Vidić, Nigel de Jong and Diana Matheson, a Princeton graduate in economics. Her playing career also ended this year after 206 appearances for Canada and two Olympic bronze medals.
Matheson, who sits on the player council at worldwide union FIFPRO, has set a career goal to help create a women’s professional league in her home country.
“I want to be a part of the solution, a part of building something,” she told the AP, adding she joined the UEFA course to get “more of a European view of football — the history, the money, the clubs.”
Now in its fourth edition, the UEFA course is run with university departments in London and Limoges, France.
Past graduates have gone on to some big jobs. Maxwell is the development director at UEFA, while Jason Roberts has the same role at North American soccer body CONCACAF. Juninho Pernambucano has become the sporting director at French club Lyon, while Simon Rolfes works in the same position with German club Bayer Leverkusen.
Khedira expects more current Germany players to become future industry leaders, citing Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.
“If you love the game and you find a decision for the fans and for the game, that’s it,” said Khedira who has already had job offers. “And not for the money or any personal interests.”
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Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press