Rewind to 19 May 2001: Bayern required just a single point from the last match of the season away to Hamburger SV to seal the league title. It went into the last minute with the game goalless, enough for FCB to lift the shield. But then a cross flew into the Bayern box and Sergej Barbarez headed the home team in front. The dream was shattered. The devastated players sank to the turf. The fans, directors and players thought the title was lost. A long season was for nothing, the shield tossed away in the last minute!
“Never give up! Always keep going! Keep going! Keep going!" Oliver Kahn roused his troops for one last assault on the title, urging his men forward for the four minutes of stoppage time.
Eight-time champion and Champions League winner
Oliver Kahn embodied FC Bayern like no other: he was always dissatisfied with anything less than victory, always aimed to be number one, and never gave up. The Karlsruhe-born keeper made 128 Bundesliga appearances for Karlsruher SC before joining Munich in 1994. In 14 years with FC Bayern he collected eight championship winners’ medals, an individual record he shares with long-time team-mate Mehmet Scholl
Kahn lifted the DFB Cup six times, more often than any other player. In European and world competition, Oliver Kahn won the Champions League (2001), Intercontinental Cup (2001) and the UEFA Cup (1996). After 557 Bundesliga appearances ‘King Kahn’ called time on his career in 2008, appropriately enough after collecting another domestic double.
Farewell match versus Germany
The player’s farewell match in September 2008 was the rare honour of a meeting between his club and the German national team. “I don’t know what to say. It’s the greatest thing ever in my career,” Kahn told the capacity crowd. “Thank you for your support down the years. Today is the pinnacle for me.“ His final statement predicted future glory for Bayern: “This season and in the future, FC Bayern will always be at the top.”
Treating adversity as the touchstone to do better was a hallmark of Oliver Kahn the player. In his very first year with Bayern, he tore a cruciate and was sidelined for six months, but came back even stronger. It was the only truly serious injury of his career.
Then there was the ‘mother of all defeats’ against Manchester United, to a stoppage-time double strike in the 1999 Champions League final. Some teams might have fallen apart after that night of horror in Barcelona, but not Bayern and their figureheads at the time, Stefan Effenberg and Oliver Kahn. The pair and their team-mates were utterly determined to win the trophy, and did so two years later after a dramatic meeting with Valencia in Milan.
FCB fought back from a goal down and a missed penalty and took the game into extra time. Even the Golden Goal rule in force at the time failed to settle the matter, and it went to a shootout. Not every Bayern man put away his spot kick, with Paulo Sergio and Patrick Andersson both missing. It made a hero of Oliver Kahn, who saved three of the Spaniard's penalties in a man of the match cameo. After an agonising 25-year wait, Bayern at last brought Europe's most important trophy back to Munich.
Three-time world goalkeeper of the year
Kahn enjoyed a glittering international career as well, representing his country in 86 games, 49 times as captain. However, he never lifted a trophy as Germany keeper, as he was Andreas Köpke’s deputy at EURO 96 in England. His greatest success for Germany was the runners-up spot at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. Kahn's stunning saves saw his team through to an unexpected appearance in the final, and he became the first and to date only goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball for the best player at a World Cup.
Other personal awards included the FIFA world goalkeeper of the year accolade in 1999, 2001 and 2002. He was also named European keeper of the year four times, and in 2000 and 2001, he was voted German player of the season.
Kahn was denied the chance to make amends for losing the 2002 World Cup final when Jens Lehmann became first-choice keeper for the 2006 edition in Germany. In the circumstances, some players might have turned down the backup position, but not Kahn: “Everyone should be big enough to accept his role and do everything he can to contribute to the team’s success," he declared at the time.
The Bayern man proved a true sportsman: although he and Lehmann were bitter foes and generally avoided each other, Kahn unconditionally supported his rival, memorably giving him a pep talk prior to a penalty shootout in the quarter-final against Argentina. Goalkeeping coach Köpke was overwhelmed: “That was so honest and so big of him. For me it was the best moment of the tournament."
Kahn earned a huge amount of sympathy for his respectful, team-oriented actions at the World Cup. His last match for Germany was the third-place play-off against Portugal, with Lehmann voluntarily making way for his rival. “I've seen and done everything, World Cups, European championships. Now, after almost 90 international matches, I can satisfactorily and with an absolutely clear conscience close the subject of the national team," Kahn publicly declared afterwards.
“Always keep going, always keep going, always," Kahn said to his then coach Ottmar Hitzfeld after the famous match in Hamburg back in 2001. The clock showed the 94th minute, and FCB were awarded an indirect free-kick. Kahn would have loved to take it himself, but it was Patrick Andersson who fired home the goal that won the Bundesliga. The celebrations were immense, as Bayern claimed the title in the very last seconds of the season. It was historic and never to be forgotten – and four days later, Bayern won the Champions League, thanks to Oliver Kahn.