Jens Lehmann turns 40 next week and ahead of VfB Stuttgart's trip to Sevilla FC told uefa.com how playing outside Germany was crucial to his career and how he sympathises with critical fans.
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Turning 40 is a time for taking stock, and with Jens Lehmann beginning his fifth decade on 10 November, he is no exception, though he is not regarding the date with dread. "Perhaps my wife has prepared a big surprise for me," he told uefa.com. "I enjoy celebrating my birthday. I usually have a nice cake and get presents."
The VfB Stuttgart goalkeeper won the 1997 UEFA Cup with FC Schalke 04, and since then has claimed league titles at AC Milan, BV Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal FC. He has continued to perform at the highest level, becoming Germany's No1 before the 2006 FIFA World Cup and helping them to third place there, and to the final of UEFA EURO 2008™. "Obviously on a personal level I am on a different stage in my career as a footballer than what I was five or ten years ago," said Lehmann. "Leaving Milan early [after not being first-choice keeper] is one decision I regret making but it probably gave me a wider range of experience. Also, I probably wouldn't have made the move to Arsenal then and that is another period in my life where I learnt a lot about myself.
"For me, to play in a foreign country was a great experience. I think to play in a foreign league makes you more admired in your own home country. I don't think I would have become the No1 national-team keeper if I had stayed in Germany. I don't think I would have learned as much by staying here. In Milan, we did a lot of tactical work and I also had to learn the Italian pace of the game. And obviously with Arsène Wenger in England I had to learn the overall pace of that game. That was very important for me, the fact that I learnt these different systems of play, even if at first these new systems seemed a little foreign to me."
Lehmann is famously outspoken, and with regard to Stuttgart's current struggles – they are 14th in the Bundesliga and go to Sevilla FC on Wednesday two points behind second-placed FC Unirea Urziceni in UEFA Champions League Group G – he takes fans' criticism seriously. "I would not accept this," he said. "You cannot always be blamed for every mistake you make ... but sometimes big mistakes happen. Sometimes there is no interaction between players or players try to win the match all by themselves. These factors can affect the unity of the team."
Thinking to the future, Lehmann is to appear as a talent scout in a film prior to the World Cup finals but when he retires from playing in the summer, acting will not be his chosen profession. "I will try out a lot of things," he said. "I am planning to start my education to become a coach, then I want to finish my academic business studies which I had had to adjourn in recent years. In the long term I am considering a number of possibilities to continue my career in football in some way."