LONDON: Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has found paradise in England – his team are fantastic, his family are settling in well and fans are giving him the support he was denied at his old club, Borussia Dortmund.
If only there were not those aggressive opponents who force him to react every now and then.
Lehmann has been charged with improper conduct by the Football Association for throwing the ball at an opponent who stepped on his foot but the German is unrepentant.
“In my life as a footballer, I’ve always acted in such a way – and I was brought up that way – that when someone attacks me I have to defend myself,” he said, leaning back in a large leather sofa at Arsenal’s state-of-the-art training ground at London Colney, a few kilometres north of their Highbury home.
“Unfortunately as a goalkeeper I have the disadvantage that I can’t run after another player and maybe push him or something without someone noticing.
“As a goalkeeper I am always the target of attacks rather than attacking someone myself.”
But apart from that one short burst of temper against Southampton’s Kevin Phillips, and conceding a couple of soft goals, Lehmann has made a great start to his English career.
His fiery temper cut short his stay with AC Milan – he left after just five appearances when injuries kept him on the sidelines – in a decision he now admits “was stupid” from a sporting perspective.
But he is sure his second attempt at living and playing abroad will be more successful, not least because this time his wife Conny and sons Mats and Lasse have joined him.
“Arsenal was attractive because of the possibility of playing in the Champions League, and then there’s my family.
“The children can learn English and we can learn English, too, those are opportunities you don’t get that easily in life,” the 34-year-old Lehmann said.
As a footballer, he is enjoying the different style of training and playing. The quality of the players was better than in Germany, he said.
“The game is faster here, technically very challenging and physically more robust, it’s more aggressive.
“The standard is higher than in Germany – there are three English clubs in the Champions’ League.”
He also finds English fans more welcoming. When he played in Dortmund, the club’s fans never forgave him for the seven years he spent with arch-rivals Schalke 04, where he scored two goals – one a penalty and once from a last-minute header.
Dortmund fans even produced a banner carrying slurs about his family but despite that he won the German title with the club in 2002.
His behaviour on the pitch did little to endear him to German fans, however.
He was sent off four times in the Bundesliga and by the time he left Germany had acquired a reputation for lashing out at other players.
Now he appears relaxed as he describes his new life at the English league leaders whose fans have welcomed him.
“They are with you with heart and soul,” he said.
Lehmann has performed creditably in an Arsenal defence built round England central defender Sol Campbell which has let in just 14 goals in 22 league games.
Arsenal fans have got used to his tendency to punch rather than catch the ball when it is crossed into the penalty area.
They also forgave him a soft goal he gifted to Leeds United in a 4-1 FA Cup victory when his clearance from a backpass was charged down by Mark Viduka.
Lehmann’s next ambition is to play at Euro 2004 and then the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
In his way stands Germany’s undisputed number one, Bayern Munich goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. He must also ward off the much younger VfB Stuttgart keeper Timo Hildebrandt, who is being groomed as Kahn’s eventual successor.
“Whether you take part or not depends on yourself. Well, the coach is the one who selects you, but it’s in the hands of each individual what he achieves in life or, in my case, in football life.”
Lehmann and Kahn are both 34, making it unlikely that Lehmann will establish himself as Kahn’s successor. He has played for Germany 16 times and although his future international chances are probably limited, he takes inspiration from David Seaman’s long career. – Reuters