Berlin: Once admired and feared for his almost robotic perfection, Oliver Kahn has demonstrated over the past few months that he is only human after all.
An ugly foul, an untimely visit to a nightclub and a few uncharacteristic blunders have opened up chinks in the Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper’s armour.
Bayern commercial manager Uli Hoeness found the right words to describe what has happened to a man wrongly perceived as a faultless goalkeeping machine with no room for feelings.
“Oliver has been extremely disciplined for his whole life,” said the former Germany midfielder. “In the last two years he formed an image of himself that was almost perfect. I think people started seeing him as a machine and a human being cannot be one.”
Kahn now provides a symbol for the crisis that hit Bayern following their embarrassing exit from Europe last week but his troubles started before that. Hailed as a hero for helping Germany to reach the World Cup final in June with a string of superb saves, Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win Fifa’s Golden Ball award for the best player in the tournament and seemed to have reached his peak.
But the Yokohama final itself turned into a nightmare for him as his blunder led to the first of two Ronaldo goals in a game Brazil won 2-0.
In that match, he also sustained a hand injury that kept him sidelined for weeks.
Since then everything has continued to go wrong. The Bayern skipper, who has a reputation for losing his temper, first came under fire for a nasty foul in the Bundesliga, after which some observers questioned whether he should remain as the national team’s captain.
Kahn reacted to the criticism by offering to give back his armband but never really apologised for grabbing the neck of Leverkusen striker Thomas Brdaric, who said after the game that he had feared for his life. “That’s Kahn, that’s authentic,” Kahn said about the offence, for which he escaped with a yellow card. “Those are my emotions. I will not let the moralists take anything from me.”
Bayern chairman Franz Beckenbauer said he had noticed that Kahn, who was probably hurt by the criticism more than he let on, was going through a difficult stage, if not a personal crisis.
“You can see that Oliver is not totally satisfied,” said the former great libero. “I don’t know why because I don’t know his soul but when you look at him you can tell that something’s not right.”
Kahn hinted that something was indeed broken when he said last month that he was considering ending his career before the 2006 World Cup on home soil. The 33-year-old Kahn said the pressure weighing on his broad shoulders was sometimes hard to bear and that a final decision would depend on his ability to continue producing top performances. “I can imagine that retiring would be a sort of liberation,” he said before eventually ending all the speculation by saying he would definitely carry on for another four years.
But he then ran into more trouble when he was spotted playing golf and spending the night in a disco while nursing a thigh injury. “Playing golf and going to a disco are two different things,” said Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who had regarded Kahn as his least likely player to get caught for poor discipline.
“There will be a fine for that. If you get injured, you must work on getting fit and a visit to a disco is not necessary in that respect.”
Kahn recovered from the injury and returned on Sunday, only to take much of the blame for his side’s 0-2 defeat by Werder Bremen. What puzzled observers most was Kahn’s response to a question after the game about his blunders when he answered that he could not care less.
He later said frustration had prompted him to talk nonsense but the damage was done and Kahn was front-page news again.
As a frail teenager with limited skills, Kahn was regarded as average in his learning years and had to patiently wait for his turn while first Bodo Illgner then Andreas Koepke took the Germany job.
Kahn, who was obsessed with perfection from an early age and used to wake his father up on Sunday mornings because he wanted to train, became his country’s undisputed number one only once Koepke retired after the 1998 World Cup in France.
Not unlike Peter Schmeichel with the same massive frame and shock of blond hair, Kahn, who hardly ever smiles even when he cracks a joke, replaced the former Manchester United and Denmark great as arguably the world’s best goalkeeper with a fantastic season with Bayern last year.
Three saves in the shoot-out that gave the Munich club their Champions League final win over Valencia made him everybody’s darling and his rise continued at the World Cup, where he stopped everything thrown at him until meeting Ronaldo in the final. For years a discreet family man, he started to change after Bayern’s Champions League triumph. Wearing designer clothes and sporting a fancy haircut, he appeared frequently in television shows and advertising campaigns. He also bought a Ferrari.
“I think he’s lost it a bit,” midfielder Andreas Moeller said of Kahn before the World Cup.
Since that statement, Kahn has crashed back to earth but his revised image as less than superhuman has not necessarily done him any harm.
“People want to see Kahn as a person with rough edges and highs and lows,” Kahn’s manager, Ludwig Karstens, said when asked whether the goalkeeper’s latest misfortunes might hurt his many sponsorship deals.