Oliver Kahn requires few words by way of introduction. The German footballing legend is a well-known and popular figure around the world. In the course of an illustrious goalkeeping career, the man nicknamed Titan achieved almost all there is to achieve. His honours collection includes medals as a FIFA World Cup™ runner-up, European champion, German champion, German cup winner, UEFA Champions League winner and Toyota Intercontinental Cup winner, to name but the most prestigious.
Kahn also received a welter of individual honours, including Best Player and Goalkeeper at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, World Goalkeeper of the Year (1999, 2001, 2002) and European Goalkeeper of the Year (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002), all testimony to his towering stature within the game.
After a 21-year career at the highest level, Kahn finally hung up his gloves in May 2008. Two years earlier, in the third-place play-off at the 2006 FIFA World Cup on home soil, the Titan had brought down the curtain on an international career for Germany spanning 86 matches, 49 of which he played as captain.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the former custodian about his new role as a TV studio expert, this summer’s FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa, and issues currently affecting the German team.
FIFA.com: Jens Lehmann, your long-term rival in the Germany goal, has announced his retirement at the end of the season. What was your reaction to the news?
Oliver Kahn: I picked up on it, as you do. It’s a logical decision. As an elite athlete, you’re always asking yourself how long you can maintain your current level of performance. The best time to stop is when people repeatedly say to you, ‘you’re basically still in great shape'.
Would you play in a Jens Lehmann farewell match?
Of course I would, why not? It was always put about that we were somehow bitter enemies. But we weren’t: we were sporting rivals, and that’s all there was to it.
Another major media debate in Germany concerns Kevin Kuranyi (who was ejected from the national team for disciplinary reasons). Should he be reinstated or not? What are the chances of that happening?
Joachim Low has a decent choice of strikers, including [Miroslav] Klose, [Lukas] Podolski, [Mario] Gomez, [Stefan] Kiessling, and on current form Kuranyi. But if you slavishly followed a philosophy of just picking form players, you’d be fielding a different national team every month. Low needs to consider this extremely carefully, because he'd have to cut one of his strikers out of the squad. And it’s not easy for a national coach to simply say, ‘go on then, I’ll take a player who’s not appeared for Germany for months now'.
By contrast, Germany have already settled on their goalkeeper. Rene Adler is officially the new No1. Is that the right decision, and was it announced at the right time? Four years ago, the decision to go with Lehmann rather than yourself wasn’t taken until just before the tournament…
I hope we’ll soon be back to the situation where we won’t be debating the timing of a decision, because we’ve finally found a man we can consistently trust, like you had with me, and like you have with [Edwin] van der Sar, [Iker] Casillas or [Petr] Cech, where you have a clearly-defined first-choice keeper.
I’d have taken the decision a lot earlier myself, just to settle it once and for all. We’ve somehow arrived at a situation where it’s regarded as sensible to delay this kind of call for as long as possible, but I reject that. A goalkeeper needs to emerge and continue developing before he can characterise an era. Obviously, Rene Adler mustn’t make any more mistakes, or the whole debate will reopen. But if he keeps making the saves we’re used to seeing from him, the debate will soon die down. And as it happens, this particular debate involves some very good candidates.
What’s the value in forming a unit with your defenders as soon as possible?
It's definitely important. You need to know how your defenders are likely to react in certain situations. You do need time to develop a complete understanding out on the field. Rene Adler has already featured in plenty of internationals, including crunch games like the meetings with Russia. I’m not sure the Germany rearguard is totally bedded in yet, but there’s a solid foundation.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ begins in less than two months. How much are you looking forward to the tournament, and what are your expectations?
For a footballer, there’s nothing bigger than the World Cup. It’s where the best national teams and the best players go head-to-head every four years. It’s a festival dedicated to football. It’s a magnificent experience. Even after you’ve finished playing, you’re still looking forward to it. It’s just fascinating to see how the drama unfolds at a World Cup. And there’s always a really special atmosphere in the host nation.
Would you like one last go at it? Does the thought cause a shiver to run down your spine?
Actually, I’m really pleased not to be out on the field any more. I’ve seen it all, and been through it all. I was at five or six major tournaments. That chapter’s closed for me.
Who do you rate as favourites for the Trophy, and do Germany have a chance?
At the end of the day, the favourites are always the same: Spain, Brazil, Italy, France, and Germany too. However, teams' form in the build-up to a World Cup tells you nothing whatsoever. Every World Cup develops its own, very powerful dynamic, based on who copes best and fastest with the climate, the conditions, and so on. So it’s very hard to say what might happen.
Are Germany on a par with Brazil, Argentina or Italy? Or are they not quite there yet?
We’re talking here about EURO  runners-up Germany. I personally believe Germany are up there on a level with the other top teams. The Germans are in a position to beat the Brazilians or the Spanish – and vice-versa, obviously. Nothing’s ever ruled out at this level.
Germany’s 1-0 defeat to Argentina a few weeks ago has no bearing on that opinion. I’m thinking back to 2002, when we only qualified for the finals via the play-offs and hardly performed brilliantly in the build-up. And we went on to make the Final that year.
Some people reckon the role of the goalkeeper has changed dramatically in recent years. Just making saves isn’t enough – the keeper must also perform as a sort of 11th outfield player too. Would you agree? Was it easier as a keeper in the past?
I have to reject that completely. Even in my playing days, it was vital for the keeper to read the game and intervene, anticipating crosses, playing the ball on the floor, slowing down or speeding up the play as required. They’re the same challenges faced by keepers today. The only major change in recent decades was the rule preventing you picking the ball up from a back-pass, but we got used to that very quickly. In the final analysis, the demands and requirements are the same as ever.
Who do you regard as the best keeper?
The best keeper in my opinion is Gianluigi Buffon. He’s the most experienced, he’s won the World Cup, and he’s at a leading club. He has the stature and personality too, and he’s currently the best in terms of combining all the best attributes of a first-class goalkeeper.
Germany’s prospects for the next few years look good, with talented younger players such as Mezut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Marko Marin, Holger Badstuber and Toni Kroos. Would you agree? If they can’t win in 2010, might 2014 in Brazil be a possibility?
Today’s young players are better developed with a wider range of skills, not just in Germany but everywhere. Players are supposed to have multiple abilities now, that’s definitely a change in philosophy. We hardly have any one-position specialists any more, or at least very few. For example, it’s not enough merely to be a good defender, you have to open up the play with a good pass or take free-kicks too.
You’ve spent a while now as a TV studio guest, and will do so at the FIFA World Cup. What’s it like, offering analysis instead of playing?
It was a big change at the start, because you’re still too close to playing. But the further away you get from that, the fewer problems you encounter, because you need to offer well-informed, neutral criticism, and that requires a certain distance. I needed a year before I found the necessary distance, but nowadays I have no problem with analysis and criticism.
You collected a huge array of honours as a player, including the Champions League, the Intercontinental Cup, and the adidas Golden Ball as best player at the FIFA World Cup. Which do you value the most?
Being named World Goalkeeper of the Year was an incredibly satisfying confirmation, as was the best player award at the 2002 World Cup. No goalkeeper ever achieved that before me, and I’m especially proud of that.