Voted the best player at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Oliver Kahn has seen his crown as the planet's top goalkeeper slip in recent seasons and his latest error in FC Bayern München's UEFA Champions League defeat by Juventus has had critics questioning whether the German side can challenge for European success with their talisman off form.
"Does it feel comfortable to have the world's best keeper behind you?" journalists asked Juve defender Lilian Thuram in the build-up to last week's Group C match, referring to the French defender's colleague Gianluigi Buffon. If the phrasing of that question was a slap in the face for Kahn, it was nothing compared to what was to come 24 hours later when Kahn's previously golden gloves seemed to have developed a Teflon coating as he failed to hold Zlatan Ibrahimovic's shot, allowing Alessandro Del Piero to pounce for a last-minute winner at the Olympiastadion.
Error count rising
Kahn has been dogged by such errors since his 2002 award and, tellingly, a quick Google search of 'Kahn' and 'mistake' now produces 30,600 results. In the 2002 World Cup final itself, Kahn let a Ronaldo shot squirm past him and he made well-publicised errors against Real Madrid CF and Werder Bremen last season. But Kahn, World Goalkeeper of the Year three times and the winner of five German league titles, has received plenty of support from the Bayern hierarchy.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s comments after the Juventus defeat were indicative: "Kahn has secured us a lot of great victories in the past, so we have to allow him to make mistakes, too." General manager Uli Hoeness added: "Zlatan Ibrahimovic's shot was extremely sharp. We cannot blame him for anything. There is no need for him to be worried."
Kahn has his say
Kahn is understandably irritated by the criticism. "Do not stare at me like that. You all abandoned me," he snapped at team-mate Hasan Salihamidzic, according to newspaper reports. "Every keeper knows that these shots from a short distance on a wet pitch are not easy to save. I don't want to make accusations, but you can't always hold the goalkeeper responsible.
I want to be judged objectively," said the Bayern captain.
Position under threat
Kahn's position as the undisputed national team No1 is no more with the emergence of Arsenal FC's Jens Lehmann, himself no stranger to high-profile howlers this season, and some have blamed Germany coach Jürgen Klinsmann for putting the keepers under pressure by not publicly declaring which he prefers.
Rummenigge said: "The cause for Oliver's mistakes is to be found in the national team. [Klinsmann] had started this discussion, now he will have to stop it. How can a keeper be self-confident, if he gets observed permanently? It's permanently in the media and we can't afford every week of this 'advantage Kahn' or 'advantage Lehmann' stuff. Things are out of control. I plead for a decision in the best interest of everyone involved."
Bayern boast Dutch striker Roy Makaay, German playmaker Michael Ballack and Brazilian defensive totem Lucio in their ranks but their chances of outright glory in the Champions League could well depend on Kahn. "Great teams need great keepers," was Thuram's response to the journalist's query above. Kahn, whose personal motto is 'never give up', will be keen to prove that he remains a great goalkeeper as Bayern continue their Champions League campaign against AFC Ajax on Matchday 5.
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