Lehmann reflects on difficult time
© AFP

His Arsenal team may be flying high but for Jens Lehmann this season has been a time of frustration.

After losing his place to Manuel Almunia, the Germany goalkeeper was tempted to leave the Emirates Stadium during the transfer window but stayed on in the hope he "still can win something" with a team challenging at the top of the Premier League and through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

The 38-year-old retains ambitions in the international arena too and considers Germany among the favourites for UEFA EURO 2008 this summer. In a wide-ranging interview, Lehmann reflects on good times and bad - from the "fantastic atmosphere" of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ to his sending-off in a UEFA Champions League final - and reveals why friendships are hard to find in football.

FIFA.com: How does this Arsenal squad compare to the 'Invincibles' who won the league in your first season?
Jens Lehmann:
It is not comparable. It is a different squad with different qualities. The current squad doesn't have the experience because they haven't done it but they have the quality. There are some really good players but now when it comes to the end, it is not only quality that matters but stamina and experience as well.

Arsenal lost Eduardo to a horrible injury last month. How detrimental will his absence be in the closing stages of the season?
Of course, he is a loss. He was an asset for us in recent games, he scored, he ran a lot, he worked hard and now we hope Robin van Persie is coming back but he has an injury record as well. You hope the other players will stay fit now. The squad is definitely not big - if it is big enough or too small we will have to see.

How frustrating have you found it sitting on the bench for long periods of the season?
It is very difficult, very hard, particularly when I see the performances on the pitch. Sometimes you have to accept it - even after I played a couple of games and was dropped again.

How close did you come to returning to Borussia Dortmund in January?
I was very close. But I stayed for several reasons. My experience from Milan, who I left too early, was one thing, and my family situation - I didn't want to take my kids out of school here. And also the belief that I still can win something here and be part of it.

Can you tell us about your experience at Milan, where you spent one season in 1998/99.
At Milan I was injured then I didn't play. Then I made the mistake of changing clubs too early because the national coach, Erik Ribbech, pressurised me a bit. He came up and said, 'If you are not playing now I cannot call you up any more'.

Are you worried about your place in the Germany team this time?
No. Normally I wouldn't worry about my place here either.

Looking ahead to EURO 2008, do Germany have a better team now than at the 2006 FIFA World Cup?
I hope we are stronger but you have to see what the tournament will bring - the European Championship will be stronger, quality-wise, than the World Cup. You saw that in the World Cup the last four teams were all from Europe. We were the first team who qualified and we have a very clear tactical set-up and so we hope to be among the favourites for the European Championship.

How would you describe the job Joachim Low has done since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann?
He has built on what Klinsmann did. Jurgen Klinsmann showed fantastic qualities in setting up the whole project and Jogi Low was an integral part of it as his assistant coach. Germany before the World Cup had some problems with their tactical set-up but Jogi Low and Jurgen Klinsmann came in and educated the players in the way they wanted them to play. Before we were used to having so many great players that we didn't really need to care about tactics but football has changed and Jurgen Klinsmann was well aware of that and that is why he put us in a framework. When you have good organisation even on a bad day you can get a result.

Is it fair to say the 2006 FIFA World Cup was the highlight of your career?
It was a highlight for all of us. It was probably the best time of our lives so far because we had a fantastic summer in Berlin, the whole country was supporting us and there was a fantastic atmosphere between the people and the players. Unfortunately we didn't win it but a lot of people still say that for the image of the country, third place was actually better than winning the cup. As a sportsman I would rather have won the cup but all in all it was four or five weeks which were outstanding in our football lives.

Do any particular memories stand out from that summer?
After we beat Poland in Dortmund, all of a sudden the German banners came out. In Germany there was a long period where you could not afford to show your patriotism by waving banners. All of a sudden it came out, a new generation that did not have anything to do with the war or the Nazis, they were showing their patriotism and to experience that was emotionally one of the biggest moments.

You had a great year with Arsenal leading up to the FIFA World Cup.
I had a very good year, which was summed up by the Champions League campaign. Unfortunately, we didn't win that either. I am still angry about it. It still interferes in my thoughts today, when I think about my situation sitting on the bench. I just can't put it aside [his 18th-minute sending-off].

I think the referee was under pressure in the final - the Barcelona players approached him with their hands up, demanding the red card. At the end of the day I touched the player [Samuel Eto'o] so I was in the referee's hands and he made a decision which he thought, in the heat of the moment, was the right one. I think he didn't intend to punish me personally. He made his decision and from what I've heard he regretted it a little bit afterwards so I can't really be angry with him.

Did your rivalry with Oliver Kahn make you a better player?
Yes definitely, particularly in the two years before the World Cup. Before I was made the No1, I was given the chance to compete for the shirt. I competed and I played nearly flawlessly for two and a half years. The pressure was so big. For me it was fantastic.

You now have a well-documented rivalry with Manuel Almunia at Arsenal. Are such rivalries more common with goalkeepers, who are competing for a specialist position?
When you compete with some guys they can't separate the professional aspect from the personal. So there is no big friendship but that does not worry me.

Is it hard to have friendships in football?
You can have friendships in football in smaller clubs where you know you have to stick together and you know that you are so dependent on each other. In bigger clubs another guy comes in, delivers the same quality and you don't care about the first guy any more.

Do you socialise much with your team-mates at Arsenal?
No. Age-wise they are nearer to my sons than to me. When I go out, I join in and I enjoy it. But I have children, I don't have time to go out a lot with them, it is just not feasible. I socialised with Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg sometimes, but right now when you look at the squad there is only Gilberto Silva who is near my age and has children.

What do you like about living in London?
I like London as a town. It is beautiful and there is so much variety. It is so busy and difficult to cope with at the beginning but then you realise how many different things there are to do and you start to appreciate it. I also like the people and the way they have a hidden sense of humour and a respect for an individual as a player. They are not too demanding when they want to shake your hand or get an autograph. What I don't like is the traffic. There is a different way of driving in England compare to Europe - I don't like that. I have the impression that the English like to queue up.

English people get taught to queue in school, you know.
My sons queue up in school. At traffic lights it is sometimes hard, though.

Do you still hope to be playing when the 2010 FIFA World Cup comes round?
I don't know what I will do after the summer. I will play the European Championship and then it depends on whether I get a good offer. If I do, I might play on another two years, and if not, I might retire probably.

And would you like to remain in football after retiring?
Yes, but not immediately.