- FIFA.com catches up with goalkeeping great Oliver Kahn
- He discusses his favourites for The Best FIFA Football Awards
- He said: “There’s a lot of hardship involved in becoming the best in the world”
People like Oliver Kahn need no introduction. The mere mention of his name tends to draw a respectful nod at the very least from those who hear it, with the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ runner-up embodying the mantra ‘never give up’ more than any other athlete.
The German goalkeeping legend won almost every title possible in a playing career spanning 21 years. Winners’ medals for the European Championship, Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup are just some of many in a bulging trophy cabinet. He also received numerous individual awards, including World Goalkeeper of the Year in 1999, 2001 and 2002 and European Goalkeeper of the Year in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, underlining his status among the elite in the global game.
Indeed, the World Cup is the only title missing from his collection. Germany and Kahn only lost one game at the 2002 finals, but that came in the 2-0 defeat by Brazil in the tournament’s finale. The fact he was named both Player of the Tournament and Goalkeeper of the Tournament were scant consolation.
Alongside Manuel Neuer, the former Germany captain – who is now a television pundit and businessman – is the only goalkeeper ever to have been included on the three-man shortlist for the FIFA World Player of the Year honour. In this interview he discusses coping with pressure and his favourites for The Best FIFA Football Awards, which take place in a week’s time.
FIFA.com: Who do you think is currently the best goalkeeper in the world?
Kahn: Keylor Navas had a big hand in Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph. This year’s World Cup was very significant. Thibaut Courtois was consistent, Hugo Lloris won the title and played really well. Having said that, what I remember most is Kasper Schmeichel’s performance. He saved a penalty shortly before full time against Croatia and saved another two in the shootout. That was a typical goalkeeper’s game.
And who do you think will be named as The Best FIFA Men’s Player?
Cristiano Ronaldo was sensational once again in the Champions League. Lionel Messi didn’t win a really big title last season. He disappeared for most of the World Cup and wasn’t able to make his mark on the tournament. Croatia were the surprise package at the World Cup. Luka Modric won the Champions League and also put in some unbelievable performances at the tournament, both physically and in terms of his play. He’s the favourite to win it this year for me.
What attributes does a goalkeeper need to become the best in the world?
He has to be able to keep the ball out in decisive moments by coming up with some big saves. For me, that’s still a goalkeeper’s main job and it’s something that’s been neglected over the last few years. There’s been much more focus on technical qualities. How good is he with the ball at his feet? How is he involved in build-up play? All of that’s important as well but it shouldn’t come above the main job of keeping the ball out.
Is it harder to become the best or to stay the best?
There’s a lot of hardship involved in becoming the best in the world. I didn’t mind that though. For me it was a challenge and also what drove me on. But it’s much harder to stay at the very top because the demands from outside are much greater, as are the demands you make of yourself. You’re no longer satisfied with an average performance.
You were voted World Goalkeeper of the Year three times. Psychologically speaking, was that an advantage or disadvantage for you?
It was an advantage for me. I always needed challenges throughout my career in order to keep my own motivation at the highest level. It helped me to go into games wanting to justify the claim of being “the best goalkeeper in the world”.
So you never considered it a hindrance?
That battle with yourself is part of being a sportsman. Obviously I had weaker periods when I’d have preferred to have hidden myself away or not played at all. In those cases, living up to the tag of being the world’s best goalkeeper is difficult.
When were those difficult periods for you?
It was especially hard after we lost the Champions League final in 1999, when we gave the title away in stoppage time. It was tough to get over that because it was my first experience of a crushing defeat in sport. It was difficult for me to start all over again. The competition for places with Jens Lehmann around the 2006 World Cup has also stuck with me because my every move was scrutinised.
Does the difference between a very good goalkeeper and a world-class one lie in being able to overcome periods like that?
As a goalkeeper it’s particularly important to accept the huge responsibility of being either hero or zero, to quickly get over any mistakes and to emerge stronger from defeats. Turning that tension into positive energy is the art of being a goalkeeper.
You finished in second place in the FIFA World Player of the Year vote in 2002. What does that mean to you?
It didn’t really register with me at the time because in professional football you’re always moving onto the next thing very quickly and you can’t stop for a break. I was only able to reflect on it with a clear head once my career was over. It was very special for me to be named as the best player at a World Cup and to come second in a World Player of the Year vote, where goalkeepers pretty much have no chance. Normally coming second is a catastrophe for a Bayern Munich player but I was very happy about that one [laughs].
Having strived to be the very best throughout your career, how difficult was it for you to adjust to ‘normal’ life again after you retired?
That’s the biggest challenge any professional athlete will ever face. It feels like you’re sitting in a brightly lit room and then somebody pulls the plug out. It’s really dark initially. There’s a certain emptiness to the moment when the thing that has shaped your entire life is no longer there. I was able to find a new path for myself relatively quickly. I started studying again and I’d describe myself as a football businessman today.
Do you still strive to be the best?
Nowadays I’m more interested in being a successful businessman and delivering a top-quality product. There’s no longer the need to constantly be the best at anything. For me it’s important to work with people and to form a motivated team that works towards certain objectives. I enjoy being a mentor within that framework, it drives me and gives me energy.