Continuing with our series on the greatest footballers of all time, here’s No. 19 on our list.
No. 19 – Oliver Kahn
Despite the existence of legends like Lev Yashin and Peter Schmeichel, goalkeeping was an under-appreciated role in football. While ardent football followers understood the value of the man between the sticks, he was seen as a lazy bum by the general public. In schools, the qualification to be a goalkeeper was the inability to play in the outfield and sometimes the possession of a body wide enough to cover a large part of the goal.
The 2002 World Cup was an inflection point in football’s popularity in Asia – Japan and South Korea hosted the prestigious tournament, a first for Asia. But the event was significant for other reasons too. In a way, this World Cup was also an important showcase for the art of goalkeeping, at the heart of which was Oliver Rolf Kahn.
Standing at 6’2″, the aptly nicknamed ‘Der Titan’ was an absolute brute. His large frame combined with his menacing growl probably made a many strikers lose their nerve during one-on-one situations. During corners, it was hard to miss this giant in the crowd and his defenders could be sure that safe hands would collect or punch the ball to safety.
Kahn won the Euro 96 with Germany and the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich in 2001. But it can be argued that he reached his zenith during Germany’s remarkable run to the 2002 World Cup final. Under coach Rudi Voeller, the Germans lacked imagination going forward and were not particularly strong in defence. Kahn, however, almost single-handedly got them into the final after a string of 1-0 victories.
In that fateful game against the Samba boys and the three Rs – Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, Kahn made his only two mistakes in the whole tournament and that cost him the ultimate prize in football. Germany lost 0-2 to Brazil, but this did nothing to lessen Kahn’s rising popularity. If anything, the iconic image of Kahn taking in the defeat while sitting at his goalpost gave him a kind of tragic hero image.
Predictably, Kahn won the Yev Lashin award for the best goalkeeper in the tournament, but he also created history by being the first goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball award, which is given to the best overall player in the World Cup.
One can go on about Kahn’s numerous trophies which include a Champions League, German Leagues, UEFA Cup, Euro 96 and so on, but that’s not what he will be remembered for. Instead, Kahn will be talked about mainly for one thing – he made goalkeeping cool. All of a sudden, kids in school, including yours truly, wanted to be goalkeepers and dive around. The public view of goalkeeping changed from being a boring job to a position which could be crucial to the outcome of a match, where a few moments of brilliance could make you a hero. Kahn’s brilliance in the World Cup certainly made him one in Asia, the proof being the 100,000+ crowd that turned out to see him play his farewell game in Kolkata, India. Needless to say, he signed off with a clean sheet.
Here’s a video that captures some of Kahn’s best moments:
Here are the other players who have made it so far:
No. 20 – David Beckham
Read the detailed write-ups on all the players in this list here: