Oliver Kahn requires little by way of introduction. The goalkeeper was one of the all-time greats, as illustrated by his enviable medal collection. Over the course of a distinguished career, he was a FIFA World Cup™ runner-up, a European champion, a UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup winner, and serial holder of the German championship and cup.
Kahn collected a host of personal awards too: Best Player and Best Goalkeeper at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, World Goalkeeper of the Year in 1999, 2001 and 2002, and European Goalkeeper of the Year on four consecutive occasions from 1999 onwards.
Even now, four years after finally hanging up his gloves, the former Germany skipper remains instantly recognisable and popular. After a professional career spanning 21 years and including 86 appearances for Germany, 49 of them as captain, Kahn retired from the game in May 2008. In a departure from the path favoured by many of his contemporaries, he chose to withdraw almost completely from the business of football, filling his time with totally unrelated pursuits such as studying for an MBA. However, the 42-year-old did not entirely sever his ties with the game, appearing from time to time as a TV co-commentator and scouting for goalkeeping talent in Japan.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the larger-than-life personality about his plans for the future, this summer's UEFA European Championship, and hot footballing topics in Germany, Europe and the world.
FIFA.com: You've given countless interviews in the past, and this isn’t the first time you've talked to FIFA.com either. You've answered almost every imaginable question, so let's start by asking whether there’s anything you've never been asked, or whether there’s something you're desperate to get off your chest?
Oliver Kahn: [laughs] I'm not the kind of guy who feels the need to divulge information all the time, and who defines himself only as a public figure, so I'm delighted there are still plenty of things people don't know about me. Obviously, the world actually does know a lot about me, but I'd say that's normal after 20 years as a professional footballer. A lot of things are bound to come to light in that time.
We’ve not actually heard a great deal from or about you recently. Are you enjoying that, or do you miss the spotlight?
The decision to appear much less in public was a deliberate one. I'm looking for challenges in completely different areas. I completed my MBA last year, I set up the Oliver Kahn Foundation, I started an internet platform, and in parallel with my job as a colour commentator, I'm producing a special TV programme in Asia.
Last January, Lionel Messi won the FIFA Ballon d'Or for the third time in a row. Is he truly the best player in the world at the moment?
Messi is undoubtedly a gifted footballer, like Maradona and Pele, and he's playing for the best club side in the world at the moment. He’s successful and he's winning trophies, so it's only logical that he'll be voted the best player in the world.
There were no Germans in the top ten. What's your view on that?
If you look at how Germany have been playing, you'd have to say one or two of the players deserve a place higher up the final ranking. However, the main influence on votes such as those are whether you've won major honours. If Germany finish as European champions, and Real Madrid or Bayern Munich win the Champions League, I'm sure we'll see German players nearer the top of the list.
At the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala, the spotlight fell on Brazil's Neymar, another up-and-coming youngster who also collected the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year. However, he's decided not to move to Europe for the time being, because he's settled in his home country. What's your view on that?
I'm not in a position to offer advice to a player from this distance, but maybe it'll turn out to be a very smart decision. Why should he leave home and go somewhere where he might feel terrible? Why not stay at home? He should stay where he’s happy and enjoys his football.
Turning to the Champions League, your former club Bayern are desperate to make the final at their own stadium. Can they do it?
Obviously, it's an additional motivating factor. Bayern are always favourites to win the Bundesliga, and they have quality. But to win the Champions League you need tremendous passion, extraordinary desire, and a bit of luck too.
What's your assessment of Manuel Neuer, your first long-term successor in goal for Bayern, who joined Munich last summer?
He's finding out how difficult it can be if you only have one or two saves to make in an entire match. You have to be 100 per cent alert and totally focused the whole time. But Neuer is a goalkeeper who could come to characterise an era at Bayern.
Turning to the German national team, can Germany win EURO 2012?
The current team played fast and furious attacking football last year. They're interpreting coach Joachim Low’s system to perfection, and they've come on well both technically and tactically. If they can combine that with the required desire and discipline, they could certainly finish as European champions.
Germany currently boast something approaching an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talented youngsters, with the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and Holger Badstuber. Are you surprised at the sheer quantity of talent coming through?
I'm not surprised, because at the end of the day, it's the logical consequence of significant structural changes and improvements in German football’s approach to youth development. Coaching and development efforts are now based on a clear philosophy. These new structures have produced a host of talented youngsters, so players like Gotze, Reus and so on come as no surprise. However, no-one should think it will happen automatically from now on. As always, later generations may not be as good, which is completely normal. But if you have sound coaching methods, you increase the probability of producing exceptional talent.
Should Gotze and his ilk consider moving abroad at some point?
It wouldn't have done me much good. I'm still totally associated with Bayern, with an era of more than 14 years which I was able to shape, and I'm thankful for that, because I lined up alongside some magnificent players. I think it was much more valuable than ending up playing for eight clubs, so that when you look back, you're never quite sure who you played for when. I don't regard that as something worth striving for, especially with the Bundesliga becoming an ever more attractive league.
Are Spain still the team to beat, or do you think they had their best years over EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Spain have steadily come on, little by little, step by step. We all thought the process would end at some point and they'd have had their fill. But over and over again, they're treating it as a massive challenge to shift up yet another gear. And Spanish youth development hasn't stood still either.
What do you think of the suggestion from some quarters that Spain and Germany could dominate world football for years to come?
Statements like that are totally disrespectful to other nations. The other countries could explode at any time. At this level, nuances generally make the difference between victory and defeat.
Many fans would like to see Oliver Kahn return to Bayern as a member of the management team. What's your message to them?
I have so many other activities at the moment, so I'm not looking for a way back into football. There are other things and challenges away from the game. But obviously, I remain an interested observer of the club.