By Kieran Ahuja
Seeing as Germany invented the advent calendar, it seems apt to begin this advent series with a big Deutsch number eins. And they don’t come much bigger than Oliver Kahn. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches with a commanding shout that made him seem double that height, ‘the titan’ won 8 Bundesligas, 6 German Cups, the UEFA Cup, the Champions League, and 3 World Goalkeeper of the Year awards.
Kahn was a traditional goalkeeper in a sense that doesn’t quite exist anymore. Many goalkeepers’ presences are only felt when they make a save. Not Oliver Kahn. Some say that a good goalkeeper should never have to touch the ball, because they should have the defence organised enough that it never gets to them. You can bet that this is what Oliver Kahn thought as well. He made sure his defence was organised, oiled and running efficiently at all times. He was unafraid of making enemies on the pitch, even his own teammates, in order to keep the team playing at their best.
This is not to say that he couldn’t stop a shot – although he had a career marked with mistakes, his agility and strength were breathtaking.
He was also one of the dying breed of players whose life, for 90 minutes, begins at one touchline and ends at the other. Never has there been a goalkeeper quite so motivated, self-critical and intent on perfecting his craft. As he rather humorously quipped after Germany’s famous 5-1 defeat to England, “I could have put my kit bag in goal today and we would have conceded two fewer goals.”
Over his 14 seasons and 429 appearances for Bayern Munich, Kahn distinguished himself as one of the world’s foremost goalkeepers. However, Kahn’s career is often distilled into and judged upon his stellar (if not occasionally inconsistent) performance at the 2002 World Cup finals. Although Germany lost the final to Brazil, with Kahn partly to blame (he fumbled the ball leading to the first goal being conceded), their surprising progress in the tournament is a testament to his leadership capabilities. With his thunderous commands and heavy hands, he kept one of the weakest German teams of the 21st century running like a German train station. He remains the only goalkeeper to receive the Golden Ball.
Yet for all of his achievements, the image that will stick with us most is Kahn leant against his post, solitary, after losing the 2002 World Cup final. It’s the image of seeing your dad cry for the first time; of growing up and realising that your parents are as flawed as you are; of meeting one of your idols and realising they’re a dick. It’s the image of a fallen titan.
Kieran Ahuja is co-founder, writer and creative director for 5WFootball. Follow him on Twitter here.