FC Bayern – Misasanrot Advent Calendar, Door 1: Oliver Kahn
A guest article by Sascha Felter.
Many football fans find their idols much higher up on the pitch, but mine, from the 2002 World Cup onwards, has been Oliver Kahn. The Oliver Kahn who almost single-handedly carried the team to the final of the tournament. The Oliver Kahn who could just as much be seen heroically rushing through the penalty area as chewing gum in stoical contemplation of what was happening in front of him.
And that despite the fact that he had already mellowed by that time. Having been born in 1996, I didn’t even have a chance to witness the “crazy” Oliver Kahn. The times when he cut his teeth on Heiko Herrlich’s cheek or chased golf balls, his face covered in blood. But that doesn’t matter.
What always impressed me about the native of Karlsruhe was his work ethic and the sense of drama that surrounded him. Kahn never tires of mentioning that he was not as talented as other goalkeepers of his generation. However, he always put in the famous extra mile in training and made up for his lack of ability with sheer will.
A story that is, of course, easy to sell. The truth is that Kahn was anything but an untalented goalkeeper. Especially in goalkeeping, factors like nerves of steel, discipline and perseverance play a very important role. Today one would speak of the “talent-free virtues”.
From my point of view, Oliver Kahn’s strength was that he was able to focus on situations with laser-like intensity. To always keep his eye on the ball, even when it was at the other end of the field. To keep shouting out 100 minutes worth of commands at the top of his voice compressed into 90. But I only really realised this after his active career had ended.
Of course, as a child I was fascinated by his incredible aerial parries. The “Kahn’s hand over save”, where he keeps a high ball out of the top corner with his upper hand as seen from the ground, is legendary. No goalkeeper has ever been as reliable in the air as Bayern’s current CEO.
When one watches highlight videos of Kahn nowadays, one might be inclined to rub one’s eyes in amazement. What would have been a one in a million save for most keepers was standard fare for Kahn. Those darting reflexes with which he was able to get his hand to the ball, as in the DFB-Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund, were par for the course for him as a goalkeeper.
It would go beyond the scope of this article if I were to go into detail about Kahn’s individual saves. It would even be difficult for me to pick out a single “best” one. In the end, there is always one that seems even better.
But of course not everything was always hunky dory for the “titan”. Mistakes like the one in the 2002 World Cup final or the one against Roberto Carlos in the Champions League two years later are also part of his long and storied record. Mistakes belong to his goalkeeping like individual tiles to a larger mosaic.
Today’s goalkeeping hasn’t changed much in this respect. Because they can all fly through the air spectacularly. The main thing is to shake off mistakes and not let them distract you. Decisions have to be made quickly and uncertainty should not be allowed to affect them.
One rarely could notice the pressure on the former Bayern keeper. At least not in a negative sense. Only in what was probably the most important phase of his career. Shortly before the 2006 World Cup, he made one or two mistakes. Too many for the DFB coach at the time, Jürgen Klinsmann, who put him, the great Oliver Kahn, on the bench.
It’s always difficult to judge from the outside, but I think he was much more relaxed and at peace with himself at the start of the 2006 World Cup. Still focused, but no longer as tense and monomaniacal as he once had been.
His public perception changed completely after he shook hands with Jens Lehmann before the penalty shoot-out against Argentina. In retrospect, a common gesture of goodwill that probably happens in every goalkeeping team.
And even if Kahn was no longer so highly emotional in the late autumn of his career, he still had retained that focus. But without going over the top and threatening to lose his cool at every moment. Somehow, looking back, for me that was the best phase of his career.
He managed a lot at the end of his career through experience and the incredible aura. Nevertheless, some of his saves were still of very high technical quality. Kahn had nothing of that modern blocking style that goalkeepers like Manuel Neuer or Stefan Ortega now exhibit.
He went down a little too early for that, but was able to make up for the gap above his head surprisingly often. By pushing at the attacker with good timing and determination, he could often present an incircumventible obstacle.
On the line, there was never anyone better than Oliver Kahn. It would be pointless here to discuss his footballing skills or aspects of defending behind the back line – it was just a different time.
He didn’t revolutionise the goalkeeping game as much as Manuel Neuer did later. Nor did he put it in a different light like Jens Lehmann. But it was Kahn and no one else who raised the “classic” goalkeeping virtues to a new level.