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Kahn bows out

'There've been so many fantastic moments'

Oliver Kahn spent the weekend in Bad Griesbach, working on his golf handicap. On the way home, he dropped by a small shop in the town of Pocking to purchase a mobile phone. "It made the front page of the next day's Passauer Neue Presse newspaper," the keeper reported with a broad smile. "Hopefully, there won't be as much of that in the next few years. It'll be a lot quieter, and that'll do me good."

Kahn exits Germany's premier football stage on Saturday when he makes his 557th and last Bundesliga appearance at home to Hertha BSC. Only Karl-Heinz Körbel (602) and Manfred Kaltz (581) have played more often in the top flight, but seldom can a player have had such an elevated profile both as a footballer and a personality as Oliver Kahn.

The spirit of Bayern

It all began on 27 November 1987 with the keeper's Bundesliga debut for Karlsruher SC. Since switching to Bayern in the summer of 1994, Kahn has equalled Mehmet Scholl's record of eight German championship triumphs, holds a record number of Cup wins (6), and has winners' medals from the Champions League (2001), the UEFA Cup (1996) and the World Club Cup (2001). He is easily the most successful player in Bundesliga history after taking part in 309 wins and keeping 205 clean sheets.

However, even this potentially unbeatable array of statistics tells only half the story. "Oliver is a major personality, the embodiment of the so-called 'Bayern gene'," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently declared, "he's one of the most important players of the last ten years". Going one step further, Ottmar Hitzfeld feels Kahn is already "a living legend."

The opinion former

"I've made my contribution at Bayern for the last 14 years. I've tried to do the best job I can for all of those 14 years," the keeper reflected. His oft-quoted maxim, "keep going, just keep going" made him a household name. Kahn, undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers of all time, has always been consumed by ambition, obsessed with success, and willing to be judged solely on the basis of his performance. That has made him appear unapproachable to some, "but in my day, football was about hard work, and not yet about enjoyment," he reasoned.

Kahn has never been anything if not outspoken. "I've never disguised my true feelings about anything, regardless of whether it was popular. I wasn't interested in weaselling my way opportunistically through twenty years. I've always tried to form and express an opinion. Sometimes I was wrong, sometimes I was right. I'll admit I was stubborn in a number of tough situations."

The Titan

In 2001, Kahn was Bayern's hero with three penalty saves to seal the Champions League crown in Milan, but just a year later, the 'Titan' became the epitome of tragedy with the fateful blunder which effectively handed Brazil victory over Germany in the World Cup final. "There've been so many fantastic moments, including little things which never became public. Devastating defeats, stunning, euphoric victories," he recalled – before suddenly collapsing into fits of laughter. "Getaaafe, hahaha, Getafe is certainly one of the most amazing."

Kahn's remaining time as a professional footballer covers Saturday's meeting with Berlin, and Munich's promotional tour of Asia. He bows out on the back of his fourth domestic double. "It mattered to me that the last year was a positive one," he acknowledged, "but with hindsight, that's made it one of the most demanding."

The pundit

Kahn is now looking forward "respectfully" to what he describes as "my second life. It's not easy, just walking away from the game and then, who knows, spending six months wandering through the rain forest," he mused, "although I don't intend to disappear from the radar screen completely for a year or two." A newly-announced position as a studio expert for Germany internationals would keep him in contact with "football at the highest level."

Neither will he suddenly turn his back on Bayern's Säbener Strasse HQ and training centre. "I might pop in for a light workout in the weights room. I don't think I'll bother anyone." However, while admitting he himself had contributed to the showbiz aspect of the game, he is hoping to step more fully out of the limelight in that respect, keeping his private life as private as possible.

The club official?

As for the immediate future, "I just want to be in charge of my own daily agenda and get away from the stress." And how long would he be able to keep that up? "At some point, I'll be motivated to try something else and set new targets, and if I am who I think I am, I'll be extremely ambitious about it." Future projects might yet include Bayern. General manager Uli Hoeneß has already pledged to keep his door open to Kahn at any time.

"Thanks Olli – we'll miss you but never forget you," read a banner displayed at the practice ground during Kahn's final public training session at the club. Even the eloquent 38-year-old himself would have been hard-pressed to better that as a summation of the fans' feelings towards one of the German game's all-time greats.