In a career spanning 20 years and taking in spells with the likes of AC Milan, Arsenal, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart, Jens Lehmann travelled the world and collected honours aplenty, including the UEFA Cup and German and English championship medals.
However, the real highlights for the maverick goalkeeper arrived in the autumn of his career. He was Germany’s reserve keeper at the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ and came away with a runners-up medal, but had taken over as first-choice shot-stopper when the hosts marched to third spot at the 2006 finals on home soil. Two years later, Lehmann again provided the last line of defence as the three-time world champions reached the final of UEFA EURO 2008.
Like so many of his fellow goalkeepers, Lehmann was a complex and occasionally outspoken player, but his stirring performances at the 2006 showdown won him a place in the hearts of millions of fans. The penalty shoot-out after the quarter-final against Argentina is now a matter of German footballing lore: as each opponent began the long walk from the halfway line, the keeper extracted a cribsheet from his shinpad, checking up on the player’s preferences from the spot. If nothing else, consulting the scribbled note was a masterstroke in the shoot-out mind-games.
Now, eight months after packing away his gloves for good last spring, Lehmann speaks to FIFA.com about his career, future plans, and the German national team.
FIFA.com: Several months have now passed since you finished playing. How are you feeling, and what are you doing with all your leisure time?
Jens Lehmann: I’m in good shape, thanks for asking. Obviously, I do have a little more free time than I used to, although I always enjoyed playing, and I don’t do that so much nowadays. That’s the flipside to this particular coin.
So you’re missing the game?
I miss playing, and I actually miss daily training too. Like I said, it was always really enjoyable, although it was obviously excruciatingly hard work at times too.
But you’re not getting butterflies in your stomach when you hear the German national anthem before internationals?
No, no. I’ve never had anything like that when I’m just a spectator. I think the butterflies are reserved for when you’re actually out there on the field.
What was your happiest memory of 2010?
There were definitely two very special moments. The first was my farewell appearance in Stuttgart, and then my very last game against Hoffenheim the following week. It was away from home, but the Stuttgart and Hoffenheim fans were magnificent, and I had my whole family there, the first occasion we’d all been together for a very long time.
Turning to the present, Germany were showered with praise in 2010. Was it justified? How would you rate the team’s achievements?
Before the World Cup, nobody really knew for certain what the current team was capable of, so what then happened was a positive surprise. Not only was the dynamism and general play pleasing, but the emergence of the likes of [Sami] Khedira and [Mesut] Ozil was a real bonus. They had not really starred on the big stage up to that point, and came up trumps in South Africa. Now they’re both at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and you have to admire them for that. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t actually an improvement on the World Cup in 2006, because Germany finished third again. That’s where work still needs to be done. It’s not enough just to play attractive football and go a reasonably long way, you have to win trophies from time to time.
What do Germany lack for that to happen?
No-one can say for certain. There’s definitely plenty of talent, but to win things you have to push yourself to the limit and beyond. We’ll have to see whether this young team has the character for that. Today’s young players are basically cosseted from a very early stage, so we’ll need to make sure these lads are actually prepared to put themselves through hell, because in one sense they don’t really need to any more. That’s the big challenge for the next generation.
Should Germany be aiming to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil?
They should certainly want to. After losing to Spain in the final at the EURO and the semi-final at the World Cup, you have to be aiming to beat them next time out. As I’ve said, we’ll have to wait and see just how far the key players are prepared to push themselves. Nothing will happen without the right attitude.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or will be awarded in January. It’s between Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi. Who would you give it to?
Either Xavi or Iniesta, because they’ve won things with Barcelona and Spain, so they’re better placed than Messi, who’s a great player, but doesn’t have as much to show for it in 2010. I’d probably plump for Xavi, because he fills an even more important and decisive tactical role then Iniesta.
The women’s award shortlist comprises Marta, Fatmire Bajramaj and Birgit Prinz. Who do you favour?
I hope one of the Germans wins it. We’re obviously talking about the highest level of the game here, so it would be nice if one of the German players won it.
Talking of the women’s game, do you follow it at all, and will you keep an eye on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™?
I don’t really follow women’s football, because I wanted to put distance between myself and the game for a while after retiring. And to be honest, TV coverage of the women’s game in Germany is pretty sparse, which makes it a lot more difficult to keep up to speed. But I’ll definitely be watching the World Cup. It’ll be fascinating, and hopefully the atmosphere will be something like the World Cup in 2006.
In early December, Russia won the race to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with Qatar named as hosts in 2022. Were you surprised?
It was never hard to imagine Russia hosting the World Cup, but Qatar is certainly out of the ordinary. However, when you see the infrastructure and buildings put up by the countries in the region, the likes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai for example, you can certainly see them staging a fantastic World Cup.
You’re involved in a number of community and charity projects, such as Stiftung Jugendfussball, Power Child Campus South Africa, and Kick it Out. Tell us something about that: why are you involved?
You obviously become well-known by playing at the highest levels of the game, and that means more people come forward asking you to help. I felt motivated to lend a hand to good causes because it’s easier to actually get things moving when you’re a player who’s been seen and recognised by kids. If you’re not a particularly public figure, you don’t have as much influence as a role model. That’s basically why I made myself available for these projects. Whenever I appear in person, I see that I’m making needy kids happy, and that’s always a wonderful feeling. I think every professional player realises that at some point, he has to give something back. Every footballer is privileged, and lacks for nothing in material terms. As a player, you have the chance to make millions of people feel good in a single moment. That’s something to treasure, and it’s easy to carry that spirit over into working for good causes.
You played in Germany, Italy and England. Where did you like it best?
London! Because of the football we played, the trophies we won, and life in the city. We made some very good friends there, and it was important for us as a family to experience a different culture and learn a new language. That was the most valuable period.
What are your goals for 2011?
I have no specific plans. I’m currently thinking through how best to use my time, so I’ve not set myself any definite goals. I have one or two things on the go at the moment: my studies, my coaching badges and TV work. But I’ve deliberately not set myself any specific targets.