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     Volume 7 Issue 37 | September 12, 2008 |

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A Ubiquitous Titan

Goalkeepers need an element of insanity. Who else would stand there and allow people to shoot balls at his face or abdomen, and still think it's great? --Oliver Kahn

Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

Cast your mind back some six years to a suffocating humid night in Yokohama. The fortunes of a certain South American football side boasting three of the world's best players (at that time) were written as then Brazil captain Cafu hoisted the World Cup into the starless rainy sky.

The Selecao were World Champions for the fifth time, striker Ronaldo was top scorer and Rivaldo and Ronaldinho had done their bit to bring the trophy home.

All was good and well. Order had been restored. The heroes had won.

But abiding by Newton's indestructible laws every tale of joy needs to have one of heartbreak.

This one could be found some 60-yards away, sitting forlornly by the goalpost looking for answers in the middle distance.

But then again, the ability to be philosophical was always one of Oliver Kahn's traits.

Arguably the most hyper-motivated individual to play the game, Kahn possessed an almost frightening single-mindedness, an ambition so deeply ingrained that not even seemingly endless strings of successes could ever satisfy it.

This is why even as he drew his career to a close this week, Kahn remains a figure of mystery; easily loathed, hardly loved and treated with reverence

After all, we fear all that we do not understand.

This is why often throughout the course of his near two-decade career Kahn has enjoyed a love-shy, hate-heavy relationship with crowds. Boos followed him everywhere, less for his performance but more for what he stood for.

Insatiable in his pursuit of success, Kahn was almost mechanical. It was something that set him apart from his peers and made others uncomfortable.

One story describes this particularly well.

Kahn at his volatile best

While he was the youth goalkeeper at his first club in Karlsruhe, his mentor Alexander Famulla refused to share a room with the understudy for fear of a pillow being put over his face at night!

But it was also this touch of malevolence that spurred Kahn onto great heights.

The Golden Ball he won as the best player in the World Cup was the zenith of his achievements which included eight Bundesliga titles, countless German Cups, the Champions League and the World Club Cup.

While he was an active player it was easy to admire Oliver Kahn, but almost impossible to love him. He embodied everything that supporters wanted to see in a player - - except perhaps that streak of exuberance that gives them their name.

As a kid growing up in what he later called 'the crazy 80's', Kahn lists among his influences Rambo, Dallas and Disney's Scrooge McDuck. The latter of the choices reveal something about the psyche of the man. Which ordinary child would prefer Scrooge's one-track mind and ruthless determination to the happy-go-lucky demeanour of Donald Duck or even the exuberance of Mickey Mouse?

Illustrating this was an incident in 1999 when he grabbed Borussia Dortmund's Andreas Möller by the ear, delivered a kung-fu styled kick aimed at Stephane Chapuisat and then pretended to bite Heiko Herrlich in the neck all extra-ordinarily in one game.

But then again, even Kahn's greatest detractors would agree that he was hardly ordinary.How else would one explain his super-human exploits in the 2002 World Cup, when he almost single-handedly delivered Germany to the brink of success with goalkeeping like never seen before.

He fell at the final hurdle, true, but that tournament completed Kahn's metamorphosis from his previous cruel sobriquets of 'Genghis Kahn', and 'Gorilla' into 'Our Olli' in the eyes of the German public. It also taught the big man, an important life lesson.'Football is not about matrydom,' he later said. 'It's a game that's enjoyable, and one in which getting better at it is supposed to be fun.'

It was a realisation that helped Kahn cope with his failures at the highest stage. It helped him make sense of the Nou Camp debacle in 1999, when Manchester United scored two goals at the end of added-time to seal perhaps the most famous of Champions League triumphs. It helped him deal with the blunder at Yokohama, when he inexplicably let the ball slip for Ronaldo to score.

For Kahn, that final taught him that his way of tunnel visioning through life was only going to get him into disaster. So he transitioned in the public eye; a transition only completed when the unthinkable happened.Kahn decided to be the understudy to Jens Lehmann for the World Cup in 2006 in the home ground.

For the old Kahn, it would have been an impossibility. He himself admits that freely. But supporting from the sidelines provided him with a sense of liberation that bought to the public eye as Kahn the human being for the first time.

And which is why instead of catcalls, the tears flowed freely when he bid his final bow at the Allianz Arena last Tuesday. Which is why some 69,000 people chanted his name and thanked him for all that he did.

Celebrating a few of his countless victories.

Kahn may just be football's greatest ever villain. His legacy has included catcalls, monkey chants, kung-fu kicks and even once memorably, bananas. But all that is forgotten now. That is not for what the giant German will be remembered. What could not be taken away from him was this Oliver Kahn was also one hell of a goalkeeper.

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