First XI

The madness of Jens

March 17, 2011
By Robin Hackett
(Archive)

At the age of 41, Jens Lehmann could be about to return to Arsenal. First XI looks at some of his most memorable moments.

Jens Lehmann
GettyImagesJens Lehmann established a reputation for mistakes early on

• Adams: A moment of madness from Wenger?

Homeward bound (1993)

Starting his career with Schalke at the end of the 1980s, Lehmann swiftly established a reputation as an error-prone goalkeeper and appeared to have lost the support of the fans during a game against Bayer Leverkusen in the 1993-94 season.

Conceding three goals in the space of seven first-half minutes, the supporters vented their frustration at their 23-year-old goalkeeper.

Coach Jorg Berger decided a half-time substitution would be required.

"Jens, I'm taking you off now," Berger is reported to have said, adding that he would speak to him in the morning. Lehmann apparently misunderstood his remarks and simply went home. He was left out of the side for the next ten games.

Settling in (1999)

Lehmann eventually proved himself at Schalke and was a key part of the side that became firmly established in the top flight, but he sought a new challenge and in 1998 joined AC Milan. Six months later, his erratic performances had seen him relegated to a bench role.

"I can't stand it anymore," he said. "I'm not prepared to just live out my playing days as a back-up for [Sebastiano] Rossi."

In search of first-team football, and having said that he would "rather play for Schalke in the second division than ever play for Dortmund", he decided to join Dortmund.

Given the intense rivalry between the clubs, the Dortmund fans had shown hostility towards Lehmann from the start, with a banner in the crowd reading 'Once the enemy, always the enemy'. He was also, incidentally, booed by the Schalke fans throughout the entirety of his return with Dortmund.

Alienating the supporters further, Lehmann had, within months of his arrival, moved in with Dortmund legend Knut Reinhardt's girlfriend of five years, Conny, after the midfielder had been sold Nurnberg. "She was alone and I was alone," Lehmann explained. "It just happened."

Reinhardt was understandably upset by the whole affair. "When she told me, it was like someone had hit me with a bat," he said. "I have already considered giving up football."

Lehmann later married Conny, a Capricorn, and she lifted the lid on her relationship with the Scorpio in 2008. "Capricorns are stubborn and ambitious, like scorpios," she told Bild. "It's fine. By having a little argument, we can get things out there and then everything is settled."

Seeing red (1999-2003)

Jens Lehmann, Soumaila Coulibaly
GettyImagesJens Lehmann prepares to face the consequences as Soumaila Coulibaly lies injured

Having signed for Dortmund in January, Lehmann picked up his first red card in April when he pulled Timo Lange by the hair in a game against Hansa Rostock. "I was ill-disciplined and stupid," he said at the time.

Lessons, of course, had not been learnt. He managed to avoid a red card when he kicked out at Soumaila Coulibaly during a 5-1 win at Freiburg in 2002 as the officials failed to see the incident, but he was later hit with a four-match ban for "extreme sporting misconduct".

"I did indeed kick out at him, because I thought he had broken my kneecap," he explained. "Even as I was kicking, I wanted to pull my foot back, because I knew it was stupid to kick out. Sadly, it was too late by then."

In February 2003, Lehmann was sent off again ten minutes before the end of a 2-2 draw in the Revierderby with Schalke after he was shown a second yellow card when he stormed out of his goal to confront team-mate Marcio Amoroso. "There is no rule that the goalkeeper must not run out of the penalty area," Lehmann said. "They must have invented that today."

His team-mates, though, directed their anger towards Lehmann rather than the referee, Herbert Fandel, who said the goalkeeper's behaviour had been "unsportsmanlike". He added: "It doesn't matter if it's a rival player or a team-mate."

King Kahn's character assassination (2004)

Having spent seven years as Oliver Kahn's understudy for the German national team, Lehmann took the opportunity to try to depose him ahead of Euro 2004 as the Bayern Munich legend's private life became a regular fixture in the press.

"I don't have a 24-year-old girlfriend," Lehmann said, referring to the fact Kahn had begun dating a girl he met at a disco having separated from his wife. "I have a different life."

He added: "Rudi Voller once said, 'Good players attract attention through good performances over a long time and not through scandals off the pitch or talk'."

The comments attracted criticism in his homeland and Kahn retained the No. 1 spot for Euro 2004, but Jurgen Klinsmann opted for Lehmann at the 2006 World Cup. The pair appeared to have buried the hatchet as Kahn wished Lehmann luck and passed on a note from the German goalkeeping coach ahead of the penalty shoot-out triumph over Argentina.

Later interviews indicated the animosity had not subsided.

Having suggested Lehmann should retire in 2009, Kahn was asked in 2010 during an interview with Bild whether Lehmann should be part of the squad for the World Cup. "I had to make way for him in goal at the 2006 World Cup, and so I'm biased," he said. "I would say no."

Lehmann, in his 2010 autobiography, also claimed he was better at dealing with pressure than Kahn and criticised his rival's ability to read the game.

Pushy (2004)

Lehmann left Dortmund for Arsenal in 2003 as he again sought a challenge abroad and, though there were issues with his inconsistency and eccentricity, he was ever-present throughout the 'Invincibles' campaign. Three weeks before the end of the season, with Arsenal 2-1 ahead at Tottenham and moments from clinching the league title, Lehmann decided to shove Robbie Keane as a corner came in.

Referee Mark Halsey awarded a penalty and held a conversation with his assistant over whether to issue a red card. Lehmann escaped with a yellow, and Arsenal escaped with a 2-2 draw that proved enough to take the title, but the questions over Lehmann's temperament had been underlined in permanent marker.

"Lehmann is the Mr Mad of the goalkeeper society," Brian Woolnough wrote in the Daily Star at the time. "If he is not remonstrating with forwards, he is throwing the ball at them, treading on their feet, rushing off his line for confrontation with officials, and his reputation is now known throughout the Premiership."

Little squirt (2005)

As the Arsenal players walked from the field following their Champions League exit against Bayern Munich, Lehmann squeezed his water bottle in frustration and managed to squirt it over referee Massimo di Santis.

Lehmann instantly raced over, claiming it was accidental, and even went to visit the referee in his room after the game. Di Santis, though, seemed to feel it was deliberate and submitted it in his report to UEFA. The goalkeeper was given a two-match ban for misconduct and Arsene Wenger showed no sympathy.

"I cannot guarantee that he will be my first choice at the start of the season because he is suspended in Europe," Wenger said. "It is something I must think about."

Pantomime villains (2006)

Jens Lehmann, Didier Drogba
GettyImagesJens Lehmann throws himself to the floor during his spat with Didier Drogba

Lehmann got a little pushy again during a 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the 2006-07 season, giving Didier Drogba enough encouragement to throw himself to the floor. As referee Alan Wiley appeared to have missed the incident, Drogba then retaliated by giving Lehmann the slightest push, prompting a slapstick fall.

Both were booked, and the incident was sensibly brushed under the carpet. "Nothing happened with Drogba," Lehmann said. "I like him. I think the handshake between us says it all."

However, it appeared his anger had simply shifted towards Frank Lampard. "Some of his team-mates insulted me terribly," Lehmann went on. "Lampard is a specialist in insulting people very badly."

Lampard, claiming the moral high ground, waited several months before talking to the media about Lehmann.

"For me, it's all in the heat of battle and nonsense to start talking to the media about it afterwards, but the other week myself and my cousin Jamie Redknapp were out to dinner in a London restaurant and Lehmann was sitting just feet from us on another table," he said.

"We acknowledged him and he completely blanked both of us. In fact, when he left, he walked right past our table and he didn't even have the decency to say anything - whether nice or rude! Perhaps Lehmann's just more sensitive than the rest of us."

Second fiddle (2007)

While Lehmann's taste for the irrational had prompted Arsene Wenger to consider his options in the past, it was not until the 2007-08 season that Manuel Almunia was confirmed as the club's first-choice goalkeeper.

"It's very frustrating," Lehmann said in December. "When I see the performances on the field, I get angry and I have to clench my fist in my pocket."

He added: "To be sitting on the bench behind somebody who only started to play when he was 30 is not funny."

The comedy continued, though, as Lehmann persisted in providing the newspapers with a steady stream of anti-Almunia bile throughout the campaign.

"I had to put up with it every day since he was out of the team and even before then," Almunia told The Guardian in April 2008. "I came into training this morning and one of the press officers told me he had been saying bad things about me in the newspapers again. It didn't surprise me.

"The truth is I have got used to reading these things from him. He can say what he likes. I come into training and I work with Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. They are better goalkeepers than him anyway."

Kleptomaniac (2009)

Khalid Boulahrouz, Jens Lehmann
AssociatedJens Lehmann deprives Khalid Boulahrouz of his headwear

Lehmann left Arsenal to join Stuttgart in 2008 and, during his debut season there, his behaviour became increasingly erratic.

It reached a head during the space of two games in February 2009. In a 2-1 defeat at Zenit on February 18, Lehmann took out his frustration with his defence by ripping off team-mate Khalid Boulahrouz's headband and throwing it in the direction of the ball boys.

On February 21, in a 3-3 draw at home to Hoffenheim, Lehmann found a boot belonging to opposing midfielder Sejad Salihovic, who had just picked up a booking after injuring Arthur Boka. The goalkeeper collected the boot and threw it onto the top of his goal.

"That behaviour was highly unsportsmanlike," Hoffenheim boss Ralf Rangnick said. "I must say that I've always had the utmost respect for Jens Lehmann, but that was something I've never seen before on a football pitch."

Lehmann, though, said people were just using his name to create "big headlines" and felt Rangnick was mistaken. "It's sad that he doesn't seem to know the rules," he told Bild. "If Rangnick observed everything as closely as he claimed, he'd know that I do this with anything I find lying in and around my penalty area."

Making friends (2009)

The 2009-10 season saw Lehmann making more "big headlines". In September, he was suspended by his club after making an unauthorised visit to Oktoberfest. At Eintracht Frankfurt the same month, he pushed a photographer.

In October, in the 81st minute of a 1-0 defeat to Hannover, Lehmann was mocked by a ball boy who taunted him by refusing to hand him the ball and then throwing it up in the air. "This is typical of our culture - cheating," Lehmann said. Hannover sporting director Jorg Schmadtke responded: "The fact that Lehmann is taking the moral high ground in German football is quite surprising. Perhaps he should remember all those things he did in his great career, like throwing away the boots of opposing players."

In December, Lehmann publicly criticised the Stuttgart supporters and board after fan demonstrations led to the dismissal of head coach Markus Babbel.

"There was a group of lads, most of whom are going through puberty, and that has had the impact of forcing the club to make decisions," Lehmann said. "If you have the strength and the quality to make decisions which contradict public opinion then things work out better."

He was fined €40,000 for his comments, and refused to pay.

Relief (2009)

Aristide Bance, Jens Lehmann
GettyImagesJens Lehmann stands on Aristide Bance's foot

Shortly after insulting the fans and board, Lehmann decided to empty his bladder during a Champions League win over against Unirea Urziceni while Stuttgart were on the attack.

A counter-attack forced him to abort, but he was back on the field before the Romanians could take advantage, and he attracted the praise of Stuttgart sporting director Horst Heldt. "I thought he handled it very expertly," he said. "It was a tricky situation."

Three days later, with Stuttgart 1-0 up at Mainz, he stamped on Aristide Bance's foot in the area in the dying moments. He was sent off and conceded a penalty from which Mainz secured a point, with the DFB later handing him a three-match suspension.

Leaving the Bruchwegstadion after his stamp, a fan asked him why he could not be normal. Lehmann responded by stealing his glasses and walking away.

Sepp Maier, the West Germany legend and a former coach of both Kahn and Lehmann, said: "Lehmann is fitting into one year the rubbish it took Kahn 20 years to get up to."