Oliver Kahn was known for his uncompromising play, unwavering concentration and a dash of aggression that intimidated opponents whenever he stepped onto a pitch. The three-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper went on to become a Bayern Munich legend after making his breakthrough with Karlsruhe.
The 46-year-old began preparing for life after professional football long before hanging up his boots by successfully completing a business degree. In the second part of an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the man with four FIFA World Cup™ campaigns under his belt reflects on his playing career and how it influences his current work as a businessman. He also reveals which striker he most feared and shares his views on what makes a goal special.
— Chris A. Aduamoah (@yesu_bha) November 6, 2015
That’s always a very tough question to answer. For example, I played against Ronaldo, whose pace, athleticism and ability to create a goal from any situation made him brilliant. I also faced Thierry Henry, who was a remarkable striker: sleek, elegant and very, very clever in front of goal. The forward I least enjoyed playing against was [Filippo] Inzaghi. He was someone you sometimes hardly saw anything of; you wouldn’t even be sure he was playing but at the end of the match the scoreboard would show 1-0 or 2-0 to Inzaghi. He was a very difficult striker and probably the one I liked playing against least of all because he was completely unpredictable.
When you think back over your career, would you do everything the same way again if you had the chance?
Potential is the key factor when looking back at my career. I wasn’t a remarkably gifted player even when I was young. I didn’t play in Germany’s many national youth sides like a lot of others have. There were no academies for training back then; it was nothing like the sport of today. I wouldn’t do anything differently because I made the most of the potential I had, and that’s just the way things turned out for me. At Karlsruhe I went from the youth ranks to the amateur team and then the professional side, and then I was fortunate that we made it to the semi-final of the UEFA Cup. That attracted Bayern Munich’s attention, from where I slowly edged my way into the national team. My career improved steadily without any kind of meteoric rise, which did me a lot of good. I didn’t go from zero to hero overnight.
How have you changed since hanging up your boots? Do you still have the same great ambition and strong will as before?
There’s a significant difference between the player who had to face anything that came his way out on the pitch and perform at his best for a top club every two or three days and the man I am today. Of course, I can still use some of the qualities I learned during my playing career, such as discipline and a targeted approach to work, but I no longer need to draw on the introverted moments I spent standing in the tunnel or show the same aggression I displayed out on the pitch. Being loud was necessary back then and something I was encouraged to do from the start. My first coach Winfried Schafer always said: “I want a keeper with presence; I want a noisy keeper.” Although that’s what I grew up with, I no longer need to use those skills in my current line of work.
Will there ever be another goalkeeper like Oliver Kahn?
Today’s lads are very different; many of them come from academies with a completely different set of experiences. I played the game with complete dedication and passion, which sometimes led to overreactions like in Dortmund or with Andi Herzog. Interestingly, I only ever had those moments of madness in the Bundesliga, but they just seemed to stick in people’s minds. No matter what kind of athlete you are or what sport you play, it’s difficult to reach the top if you don’t truly live out your profession and aren’t obsessed with wanting to improve yourself in every conceivable way.
Do you still see players with that kind of obsession today?
All of the players who became world champions last year share that same all-consuming obsession, but they use it in a more restrained way instead of expressing it like I did. It’s a different generation; each one has its strengths and weaknesses and each of them can learn from the others. I still remember how tough it was to establish myself with the more experienced members of the squad when I was starting out as a young player, whereas youngsters are accepted and integrated much faster nowadays. Things were still pretty rough in my era; the older guys could sometimes be rude when defending their place within the team. Back then you really had to weather the storm before you could make it as a professional. The situation is much more pleasant for young players today than it was in my era – and that’s a good thing.
No matter what kind of athlete you are or what sport you play, it’s difficult to reach the top if you don’t truly live out your profession and aren’t obsessed with wanting to improve yourself in every conceivable way.
Who made you particularly aware of that tough environment in Karlsruhe?
I don’t want to name any names; that’s just the way it was. Anyone coming into the team at 18 had to carry the bags and balls first. When I was 20, I remember going to get a massage and being told: “You can come back in another two or three years; this is where we treat the experienced players.” Things like that would be totally unthinkable today.
Although your job was to stop players from scoring, what do you think a FIFA Puskas Award winning goal should look like? What makes a goal special for you?
For me, a special goal is one that’s unstoppable – that’s the main prerequisite. It should be something that’s exceptional and doesn’t happen everyday. The goals I most enjoy watching are the moves where five or six passes are made before the ball reaches the goal – real tactical masterstrokes. When they work, they’re a real joy to watch.
Would you like to see an award for the best save of the year?
I personally think there are far too many prizes and awards as it stands. I’d prefer it if everything was reined in a little and just one or two important accolades handed out each year, like in the film business. I’m not a fan of constantly introducing new prizes.
What was the best save of your career?
I don’t even think anyone in the stadium noticed it at the time; it happened in a Champions League group match against Celtic. After the ball was cut back from the byline, a Celtic player ran on to it at full pace and fired in a shot from eight metres out. I got my hand to it somehow, and the ball ricocheted from my fingertips onto the crossbar before bouncing back down where a team-mate cleared it. It was hardly noticeable to the spectators unless they watched it in super slow motion. Although it was only a group game, that save really stuck with me.
What was the best save of all time?
Nothing immediately springs to mind, but I can remember the worst goal I ever conceded. That was also in the Champions League, this time in the last 16 against Real Madrid. We were playing at home at the Olympiastadion and it was minus 15 degrees Celsius. After 80 minutes we were 1-0 up and I was practically frozen solid when Roberto Carlos attempted a completely harmless shot from 35 metres out. I tried to save it but the ball slid under my body and ended up in the bottom corner. The stadium fell completely silent. I’ve never experienced such a bizarre moment; it was by far the worst goal I can remember conceding.