Germany certainly knows a thing or two when it comes to producing quality goalkeepers.
From the legendary Bert Trautmann to the cat-like Sepp Maier and through to the pioneering sweeper-keeper Manuel Neuer, they’ve certainly done alright between the sticks – rarely having to settle for anything less than supreme. But perhaps their greatest and most iconic keeper above all of the others is the great Oliver Kahn.
Kahn was an enormous presence in every sense of the word. At his peak, he was truly world class and then some; famed for his style of goalkeeping that mixed aggression, overwhelming-determination and relentlessness. It’s why fans affectionately dubbed him ‘Der Titan’.
Along with his eight Bundesliga titles, Kahn’s crowning moment was undoubtedly winning the Champions League in 2001 – in a match that showed the European stage his heart of gold, as well as his heart of steel.
Bayern faced Valencia at the San Siro in a drab match that ended 1-1 in normal time, resulting in extra-time and then penalties – testing the nerves of Kahn and his opposite number; Spanish shot-stopper Santiago Canizares.
But while Canizares was able to save the spot-kick from Patrik Andersson, Kahn proved to be the hero on the night by saving from Zlatko Zahovic, Amedeo Carboni and finally Mauricio Pellegrino, finally securing the European title that had been robbed from them two years prior. But as his teammates celebrated wildly into the night, TV cameras caught Kahn walking over to the distraught Canizares – aghast from suffering back-to-back Champions League final defeats. He would later win the UEFA Fair Play Award for this iconic act of sportsmanship.
Kahn knew all too well how Canizares felt that evening; he himself had experienced the pain of having the Champions League snatched away in dramatic circumstances.
The 1999 final – played out against Man United – is considered a moment of folklore for United fans, with the late goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer securing victory for the Red Devils from the jaws of the defeat. Bayern players and fans reflect on the match quite differently, with Kahn’s shocked expression at full-time one of the defining-images of that night in Barcelona, later telling Sport Bild: “In my memory, I have stored that final against Manchester United as a win,” Kahn said. “I’ve erased the final two minutes.”
But that bitter-end to that season would be nothing compared to what he endured three years later at the World Cup,
In many ways, the summer of 2002 showcased Kahn at his very best; he was at the peak of his powers, the best in the world in his position.
His performances in Japan/South Korea earned him clean-sheets in every one of Germany’s games as they reached the final – bar the 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland in the group stage. Germany’s squad in 2002 is nowadays remembered as one of the World Cup’s worst-ever finalists, with the team plagued with injuries to key players prior to the tournament. Despite this, Kahn – who was naturally made captain before the World Cup – inspired his side all the way to the final, helping them ease past Paraguay, USA and joint-hosts South Korea in the knockout rounds.
There they faced Brazil, with much of the pre-final build-up focused on the personal battle between Kahn and Ronaldo, the leading goalkeeper and goal-scorer of the World Cup. But even with Kahn winning the tournament’s Golden Ball – making him the only keeper in history to secure the award for the World Cup’s best player – it was his blunder on the 67th minute that allowed the striker to score, with him spilling a speculative shot from Rivaldo into the feet of Ronaldo to tuck home. Brazil’s lead was doubled 12 minutes later through Ronaldo again, and Kahn’s dream of lifting that famous trophy as captain was over. More misery in a major final.
Kahn hung up his gloves in 2008 as one of the most successful German players in recent history and as one of the greatest goalkeepers in history. But it’s his failings – few as they were – which perhaps stand out and define him. He remains an icon at his beloved Bayern, where he’s now working as one of the club’s executives. He’s even earmarked to replace Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as CEO from 2022.
With the club entering a new era with a significantly younger team – lead by the likes of Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies – they’ll do well to heed the wisdom of this Bundesliga legend.
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