Oliver Kahn exclusive
Oliver Kahn is regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. The Bayern Munich legend lifted 26 trophies throughout his career, but missed out on the biggest of them all after making a costly mistake in the 2002 FIFA World Cup final against Brazil. In this exclusive interview with Soccer Laduma’s David Kappel, the German opens up about losing to Brazil, lifting the UEFA Champions League title and his work after retirement, which has seen him found his own company GoalPlay and team up with award-winning South Africa-based social enterprise AMANDLA. The only goalkeeper to be awarded with the Golden Ball at a World Cup to date, he also explains how the role of his profession has changed.
David Kappel: Hi Oliver, thank you very much for the interview, even if you were not able travel to South Africa. Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement with AMANDLA in Cape Town?
Oliver Kahn: We met six years ago with the Oliver Kahn Foundation and AMANDLA EduFootball. We initially worked together for a programme, which I developed for my own foundation, the so-called ‘You can do it’ (Du packst es) programme. Most of the work of my foundation is based on this pedagogical concept, which is focusing on education of young people, learning how to set targets, how to deal with setbacks, and much more. AMANDLA EduFootball liked this concept and were keen to start a similar programme in their SafeHubs. The Oliver Kahn Foundation has been supporting young people for more than six years.
DK: You were supposed to come and visit AMANDLA in Cape Town for a so-called ‘Train N Fight Challenge’. What can we understand under this programme?
OK: ‘Train N Fight’ was developed by my company called GoalPlay, which is focusing on everything needed by a goalkeeper. We look at equipment, training programmes, etc. and all of it is digital-accessible. The idea is to take goalkeeper development into many different countries all over the world. And I thought it would be brilliant if we could combine my commitment for the Safe-Hub with a ‘ Train N Fight Challenge’ from GoalPlay. How does it work? During the first day, we conduct basic practices with the goalkeepers, we try to help them to get better, and during the second day, we have a competition – that is where the name ‘Train N Fight’ comes from. The candidates will then compete against each other and, in the end, there will be one winner. We want that the players implement what they learned during the first day in the competition on the second day. We have conducted 10 of these camps in the big cities in Germany, and this time I wanted to offer it in Gugulethu in the Safe-Hub.
DK: How do you think the position of the goalkeeper has changed over the years?
OK: The main tasks of the goalkeeper have always remained the same. These are to make saves, save points and games for the team with outstanding saves. But in addition, the game of the goalkeeper has changed and that is why we named our business GoalPlay. The name refers to the goalplayer rather than just the goalkeeper. It means the goalkeeper is not just standing in goal anymore, but he is also part of the game. These days, goalkeepers are the 11th outfield player. If we look at the best keepers in the current game, they are all great football players; they could even play in outfield positions. They do not just help their teams with saves but can also be counted upon with their feet. They are now part of the build-up game. And that, for me, is the biggest development – the goalkeeper has developed into the goalplayer.
DK: If we look at which three goalplayers, as you call them, are currently the best in the world, which names come to mind?
OK: In this moment in time, Manuel Neuer has some problems, based on his massive injury from last year. Right now, he is not at the level expected of him. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is for me currently among the best in the game. He is showing sensational form at FC Barcelona. He has matured a lot; he is now a lot better and more balanced than in previous years. He is one of the best goalies right now. Then we have Hugo Lloris from France, who is not playing as spectacular but is super reliable. Thibaut Courtois from Belgium is currently suffering a bit after his move to Real Madrid, but I think Courtois, Lloris, Neuer and ter Stegen are the best. And another name, who I am I big fan of, is Kasper Schmeichel.
DK: In South Africa, Africa, and actually everywhere in the world, there are many young goalies who grow up without proper goalkeeping training. What would you advise an adolescent goalkeeper who wants to reach the highest level?
OK: I would advise him to download the GoalPlay app (laughs). Of course, it’s only a joke, but we are developing an app, which will launch in January or February. You can download it all over the world and find training concepts and programmes to train exactly after in line with our philosophy. My advice? A goalkeeper needs to train with fun and excitement. And I believe, today, you can train everything easier, and if you focus on the right exercises, then the development will happen faster. During my time, I literally trained everything as long as it was fun and spectacular, but today we know exactly which training will make you better at which development stage. It is important to have coaches who are highly qualified and who know how to train with a goalplayer.
“My foundation is focusing on education of young people.”
DK: Let’s chat a bit about your own career. You yourself have won many cups and championships with Bayern Munich. Which title do you particularly like to remember?
OK: Of course, there are some titles, I remember more than others. I remember us winning the German title in the 94th minute with the last shot of the game in 2001.
DK: Remember, the hero of that day was Patrik Andersson, who scored a free-kick!
OK: Yes, Patrick Andersson, the man who had never before scored a goal with his foot (laughs). But on this day, it was meant to be. Of course, I cherish the Champions League final! We lost it in 1999 against Manchester United. If I would call it unlucky, it would be (an) understatement. But then two years later we beat Valencia in the penalty shootout. I celebrated many great titles. I do not even want to say this one was better than the other. I had 14 great years at Bayern Munich. It was a very emotional time. We won a lot, but also lost some important games. But this is football.
DK: You already mentioned the Champions League final victory after penalties against Valencia. How emotional are you in such a penalty shootout and what goes through your mind when you save the final penalty from the other team?
OK: The best is that I did not even know we would win if I save this penalty. I did not realise that this was the deciding penalty. I was in such a zone of concentration, only focused to try and save any shot of the opposition, that nothing else mattered. If you watch old footage of 2001, you can see that in the moment when I save the penalty, I look up to the halfway line and all of a sudden all my teammates start running, and then I thought wow, we have won it.
DK: Amazing… But like you said, there were happy and sad times during your career. What are your memories of the 2002 FIFA World Cup final, which you lost 2-0 with Germany against Brazil, and how do you deal with such a disappointment?
OK: Hmm, 2002 was very unlucky. I think personally I had reached my absolute peak; I was at my top level. I think I can say I played seven games at the highest level, but this one mistake allowed Brazil to score to make it 1-0 in the final. How do you deal with it? I think it is understandable that it takes quite a while. I think I needed about a year before I fully moved on from it. But we all need to understand one thing in football: the goalkeeper is not alone! He is part of a team… he can also make mistakes. But if he makes a mistake, it is often s**t. However, there are also other players on the pitch – they can make up for a mistake. Football is a team sport, and at some point in my career I understood this better and it helps to deal with mistakes.
DK: As you said, if you make a mistake as a goalkeeper, it is often a goal, while outfield players often have someone behind them to make amends. How do you learn to deal with this additional pressure, which is even greater at the highest level?
OK: It is a process of learning. I did not immediately play in Champions League finals. I started my career at a smaller club before I entered the Bundesliga after playing for the amateurs. I had my first international experiences with Karlsruhe and became a Bundesliga regular. So, step by step, I got used to the demands and expectations. I do not think I would have been able to play Champions League at the age of 18. It was a process of learning, a process of adapting and step by step. Then, with my transfer to Bayern Munich, I moved towards the bigger tasks, learning from game to game. At some point, you have the feeling that you can perform at the highest level. And the pressure you mentioned, you have to learn to turn it into energy, performances and motivation. This often works, but not always. It is what makes a good sportsman: it is the daily fight against oneself.
DK: You are now working on many projects as well as being a mentor. Would you like to work as a coach one day?
OK: Nope. No, I already realised back in 2008 when I retired that I do not want to work as a coach. I wanted to follow other paths. It has always been in the back of my mind to move into the corporate world, to build my own company – ideally of course in the world of sport, and that is exactly what I am doing today. In addition, I am also keen that everything I do has a meaning. I am not only interested in doing business, but also want to help others. That is why I love the connection between GoalPlay and AMANDLA, and I hope that we continue with similar projects in the future because we all have a lot of fun working with young people. The coaches are super motivated, AMANDLA is super motivated, and that is what is important to me. These projects give us an incredible amount of energy when you see how much fun it gives to young people.
DK: You have a Masters in Business Administration. Could you imagine working as a manager in the future?
OK: (Laughs) Please, not this question! I get asked this question 100 times every year and I can always only give the same answer. At this moment, I do not think so, because right now I have too many other things going, which make me happy. I do not see myself in any management position in football.
DK: You yourself were the captain of the German national team for many years. What do you think were the main reasons that Germany got knocked out at the at the group stage for the first time at the 2018 World Cup?
OK: I think the team stagnated a bit since they won the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The players became a bit complacent. There was no drive anymore in the team. They did not work perfectly as a unit. I had the feeling the World Cup winners did not function well with the new players that were added to the team. Ahead of the tournament in Russia, there was also the controversial photograph that Mesut Ozil took with the president of Turkey. There were many disturbances, which led to the way Germany were knocked out. However, what’s interesting is the fact that if you look at the statistics, the German team is almost in every statistic in position one or two – goalscoring opportunities, corners, freekicks. But they still got knocked out, which shows there was a bit of bad luck that also played a part.
DK: As a final question: Jay-Jay Okocha will come to South Africa next week with the Bundesliga Legends Tour and will also visit an AMANDLA project. Do you still remember the goal he scored against you when you were still at Karlsruhe?
OK: How could I forget? It is one of the legendary Bundesliga goals, of course. Many people always think it was difficult for me to get over it and that I would feel down because he got one over us with his trickery. But, to be honest, I was surprised with myself about how quick I could tackle, get up, tackle, get up… (laughs). Of course, everyone likes to re-watch the goal and it was a massive highlight for JayJay Okocha but also for me, because everything that is emotional is great and belongs to football.
“The best is that I did not even know we would win if I save this penalty.” “I do not see myself in any management position in football.”
Oliver Kahn after conceding the first goal against Brazil in the 2002 FIFA World Cup final.
Oliver Kahn after saving the final penalty against Valencia in the 2000/01 Champions League final.