Arsenal and Bayern Munich are set to square of in the first leg of their battle for a place in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, and the fixture has special meaning to Jens Lehmann. The 44-year-old seized 61 caps for Germany, played for Schalke and Borussia Dortmund in his homeland, and made over 150 appearances for the Gunners, whom he helped win their last trophy in 2004.
Yet even two years after the end of his active career, Lehmann cannot take his eye off the ball and is taking part in the Match Against Poverty on 4 March alongside countless top stars. FIFA.com caught up with Lehman to discuss Bayern-Arsenal, his tips for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and whether he still enjoys playing football.
FIFA.com: Jens, just like last year, Bayern and Arsenal are facing each other in the Champions League's Round of 16. Bayern got through that time. And this time?
Jens Lehmann: It’ll be closer. Bayern have the advantage of coming back stronger from the winter break, having less injuries and being even stronger than last year. But Arsenal are stronger too.
Your ex-clubs Dortmund and Schalke have drawn tough opponents in Zenit and Real Madrid...
Dortmund would surely be happy to see some of their injured players back. I consider Dortmund the stronger team. Schalke against Real is an extremely attractive tie, but tough. You’ve got to make Madrid favourites there.
Argentina and Brazil are naturally the favourites. The Belgians could spring a surprise. Spain and Germany are currently the strongest teams in Europe.
You retired in 2011, but take the field again from time to time, for example in Michael Ballack’s farewell game or at the beginning of March in the Match Against Poverty. How important are such charity games for you?
Very important, because they allow me to support good causes.
Do you still have butterflies in your stomach when you step on the pitch?
If good players are playing then I still enjoy playing. But it’s tough, many of my contemporaries have stopped playing and are often in a state of physical decline. That’s not so much fun (laughs).
On a personal level, you’re socially engaged with your project Kicking Girls. What is it exactly?
This is a project of the Laureus Foundation, which supports girls who do not have the possibility to play in football teams. In it they’re generally trained by female coaches. The girls typically come from immigrant families, who are sometimes not happy with their daughters being trained by men. Laureus also supplies the initial equipment, which means they can play football like other girls.
You gained your coaching badges in England. What are your future plans?
I did my courses in Wales and with Arsenal. I think I’ll be going back into football soon. As a coach or a sporting director. There’s nothing concrete yet.
With Brazil 2014 looming, what are your thoughts on Germany’s opponents Portugal, Ghana and USA?
A difficult group including two teams, USA and Ghana, who are tough to predict. It’s won’t be easy.
Will it be an advantage for USA that their coach Jurgen Klinsmann knows German football so well?
A clear advantage for the Americans and also a very interesting match-up.
What do you expect from the tournament in Brazil in general?
That it’ll be entertaining. Perhaps somebody, hopefully Germany, will succeed in breaking the South Americans’ dominance on their home continent and win it. During the tournament we’ll see how fit the individual teams are. Argentina and Brazil are naturally the favourites. The Belgians could spring a surprise. Spain and Germany are currently the strongest teams in Europe. It’d be good to see Germany in the Final.