Kahn-do philosophy could help restless Lehmann find inner peace

 

SEMI FINAL GERMANY v TURKEY:It's been a contentious decade for German goalkeepers, but Jens Lehmann could secure his status within the week. Emmet Malonereports from Basle

"GOALKEEPERS," Oliver Kahn observed recently, "need an element of insanity. Who else would stand there and allow people to shoot balls at his face or abdomen, and still think it's great? You throw yourself at the feet of the other team's strikers, you give it your all, and, of course, somewhere in your subconscious you know that there are healthier things to do."

The best German goalkeepers of recent times would appear, however, to have also suffered from a different form of madness.

The intensity of the rivalry between Kahn and Jens Lehmann, for instance, almost stole the show at the World Cup two years ago when years of simmering enmity threatened constantly to boil over before eventual rapprochement in Berlin.

The memory of the original problems may well have influenced Joachim Loew's squad selection for this tournament; Jürgen Klinsmann's successor perhaps deciding it was simply better to leave his established number two, Valencia's Timo Hildebrand, at home than to risk a repeat of the 2006 guys-with-gloves soap opera.

True to German goalkeeping form, Hildebrand lashed out at the decision, criticising the coach for "lack of respect" and Lehmann for lack of form.

For Loew, the decision was undoubtedly a gamble; Lehmann's two back-ups possess just one international cap between them, and Lehmann, having performed strongly for the national team through most of last season, did less well in warm-up games for this tournament.

So far it has not proved a problem. Lehmann has hardly been in sparkling form, but neither has he done much wrong.

Still, after the way Petr Cech handed Turkey a way back from the brink of elimination with his error late in the final round of group games, much rides for the Germans on the 38-year-old Lehmann avoiding the sort of errors that effectively ended his Arsenal career at the start of last season.

In reality, the Stuttgart player has long been prone to unsteady spells, but his strength when coming for crosses and often remarkable shot-stopping were sufficiently prized for allowances to be made.

Lehmann made his name over the course of a decade at Schalke 04, but his career at Milan lasted only a matter of months following poor displays early on.

He spent four years back in the Bundesliga, and his original spell with Dortmund, with whom he won the title, restored his forward momentum.

There were of course some excellent times at Arsenal before the blunders started to outweigh the brilliance in the eyes of the manager Arsène Wenger.

Even then Lehmann might have survived a while longer had it not been for an uncannily Kahn-like ability to rub coach and co-stars up the wrong way.

During the season just ended, he repeatedly dismissed the man who replaced him at the Emirates, Manuel Almunia, as an inferior player and castigated Wenger for what Lehmann deemed an ongoing error of judgment.

His fear of losing his place ahead of this tournament prompted repeated talk of his having to leave north London, though in the end the decision was made for him.

Wenger, asked by a journalist back in April whether he would offer the German a new contract, replied with an exasperated "Pardon?" and then laughed derisively when the question was asked again.

By then Lehmann had warned Wenger not to "humiliate" him for too long, had repeatedly hinted at ulterior motives on the Frenchman's part and sneered at what he saw as Almunia's lack of experience and ability.

There were a few occasions on which Almunia did appear to fall short of the desired standard, but the German's mistakes against Fulham and Blackburn in the opening two games of the season left him with little basis for complaint.

And Almunia's reluctance to be drawn into a slanging match despite what could be deemed repeated provocation made nonsense, in one sense at least, of Lehmann's assertion that the new goalkeeper "lacks my class".

On the international front, Lehmann's status has shifted starkly in the opposite direction over several years, a widely disliked player achieving hero status thanks to his performance in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final shoot-out against Argentina, when he saved spot kicks from Roberto Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso to send the hosts into the semi-finals.

As for Kahn, the long-time rival of Lehmann and hero of so many other big occasions initially seethed over his relegation to the bench before gradually coming to terms with the situation and gaining huge popularity for the way he dedicated himself to the team's greater good.

"I marvel at the respect I am being given now," he said at the time. "I had always wanted to earn that respect through my work as a goalkeeper but now I am getting respect for contenting myself by sitting on the bench. It's very positive what is happening to me.

"I learned a lot in 2006," Kahn adds now. "After defeats, I ask myself, 'What can I do differently? How can I continue to grow?' After the 2006 World Cup, I knew that you don't always need success, success, success on the pitch.

"The realisation that you're not always standing down there on the field merely to win, to be successful, was very liberating. One can be successful by helping the team, the other players.

"All of a sudden I felt the kind of empathy for people that I hadn't felt before."

Lehmann, it seems, is still some way off uncovering the sort of more reasoned, inner calm that has come to dominate Kahn's public persona.

Few complained about Kahn's lack of personal warmth in 2002, though, when he almost hauled Germany to a world title, and few will make much of Lehmann's either if Germany can beat the Turks this evening and then go on to lift a fourth European title in Vienna at the weekend.