"Keep on going." Three words that perfectly sum up Oliver Kahn. The phrase dates back to 19 May 2001 in Hamburg, on the final day of the 2000-01 season. Bayern Munich are three points clear of Schalke 04 but with an inferior goal difference.
The Royal Blues from Gelsenkirchen stroll to a 5-3 win over
lowly Unterhaching, and then things take a turn for the worse as SV
Hamburg take the lead at home to Bayern with an 89th minute Sergej
Barbarez goal, making Schalke virtual champions and putting Bayern
down to second.
Oliver Kahn refuses to give up, however. "Keep on going, keep on going!" he implores, and in time added on, defender Patrik Andersson makes it 1-1 and brings the title back home to Munich. Kahn's celebration with the corner flag have since gone down in history. "What happened then just happened," recalls Kahn four years on. "Winning the title then was just crazy."
Crazy is a good way to describe the man's entire career. Oliver Rolf Kahn was born in Karlsruhe and began playing at the age of six as an outfield player, but soon found himself between the sticks. At the end of November 1987, Kahn made his Bundesliga debut for his hometown club of KSC before joining Bayern Munich seven years later for 2.3 million euros, replacing the popular Raimond Aumann in goal for the record title-winners.
"Football is not a matter of life and death - it's far more important than that," said the great Bill Shankly, and according to Oli's 2004 autobiography 'Nummer eins' (or 'Number one'), "you can't put it any better than that".
Kahn proved that he was a fighter four months after his transfer to Bayern, when he suffered a cruciate ligament tear which kept him on the sidelines for almost six months. His club stood by him during these difficult times, and within two months of his return he was celebrating his international debut for Germany in the 2-1 win over Switzerland in Bern. This was the beginning of the glory years for Kahn. Two years later he won the UEFA Cup and the following year 'The Titan' hoisted aloft the German Bundesliga trophy - his first of eight.
Hero of 2001
His career did have its ups and downs, however. There was that "defeat from the jaws of victory" in the UEFA Champions League Final in 1999 against Manchester United, when he conceded two legendary late goals. Then there was a blunder in the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ Final against Brazil and his demotion to the substitutes' bench four years later on home soil, setbacks that the 38-year-old would gladly have done without but which nevertheless made him a more rounded character.
It was in 2001 though that Kahn was finally recognised as one of the greatest keepers in the world. In the final of the Champions League, he saved three penalties in the shoot-out against Valencia and won the ultimate prize in club football.
His unflinching and almost superhuman will to win and often-aggressive style of play meant that many people saw him as unapproachable. Opposition fans took an immediate dislike to him which often manifested itself in the throwing of bananas or other objects during matches. Kahn used this, along with the whistles and cat-calls, to spur him on to greater heights and seem to prefer it to applause.
He finally got public opinion on his side in 2006 after he was dropped as Germany's goalkeeper for the FIFA World Cup. King Kahn proved that his heart was as big as his ego by supporting the team from the substitutes' bench and received widespread admiration after the quarter-final, when he was seen shaking hands with his bitter rival Jens Lehmann and wishing him the best of luck before the penalty shoot-out.
During his final months in the Bundesliga, Kahn had a whole new experience. Instead of being booed in opposition stadiums, fans gave him respect and applause. "Quite an unusual feeling," was how he described it.
"He is the best goalkeeper in the world, and all because he committed himself to success one hundred per cent," said Ottmar Hitzfeld, his long-time coach with whom he shared no fewer than 14 trophies. " Oliver has experienced all that football has to offer."
Point of no return
While other stars tend to change clubs four or five times in their career, Kahn only moved once, from Karlsruhe to Bayern Munich, despite the fact that a number of major foreign clubs frequently came calling. "I had discussions with other clubs," said Kahn, but for him the main thing was always to identify 100 per cent with the club he was playing for. "Money was never the decisive factor."
After a spectacular 21-year career, Oliver Kahn is now hanging up his gloves for good, with no room for a possible comeback. "There's no better time for me to stop," said Kahn in a recent interview. "That's the end of it. No coming back." He does not as yet have any concrete plans for the future, preferring to "regenerate and get back his motivation", which will give him the "energy to handle some interesting tasks".
Both the Bundesliga and German football in general are losing one of their greatest figures, but Kahn himself has no regrets - merely a sense of gratitude. "I've had 20 incredible years with lots of success and some highly emotional experiences," he says. "I've seen it all, you can't ask for any more than that. I just feel grateful that my body withstood the pace for so long and that I had so much success with this great team. This is my main emotion as I say goodbye."
I've rarely come across players who can concentrate like he can
and who are so psychologically strong.
Kahn in figures
86 caps, 49 as captain
1996 European champion
2002 FIFA World Cup runner-up
2006 FIFA World Cup third place
1987 - 1994: Karlsruhe
1994 - 2008: Bayern Munich
557 Bundesliga appearances
142 European appearances
Bundesliga winner: 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008
DFB Cup winner: 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008
German League Cup winner: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2007
UEFA Cup winner: 1996
UEFA Champions League winner: 2001
FIFA Club World Cup winner: 2001
Best player and goalkeeper: 2002 FIFA World Cup
World goalkeeper of the year: 1999, 2001, 2002
European goalkeeper of the year: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
German footballer of the year: 2000, 2001
German goalkeeper of the year: 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002