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Culture

Germany's Top Two Goalkeepers at Each Other's Throats

A war of words between Germany's top two goalkeepers has now dragged in some of soccer's most important personalities. It all stems from national reserve keeper Jens Lehmann's comments on number one Oliver Kahn.

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Some German soccer personalities wish Jens Lehmann had thought before opening his mouth.

At a time when the Germany soccer team should be showing a united front, the two top goalkeepers in the squad have engaged each other in a war of words. The instigator, Arsenal shot-stopper Jens Lehmann, is claiming that he is the rightful number one, not the incumbent, Bayern Munich's Oliver Khan.

What started out as a well-publicized moan about not being in the team has know escalated into a full-blown row that has dragged in German soccer monarch Franz Beckenbauer and Kahn's team chief at Bayern, Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Torwart Jens Lehmann und Rudi Völler, der Trainer der deutschen Nationalmannschaft

Jens Lehmann and national coach Rudi Völler.

And with the German squad well on the road to preparation for the European Championships in Portugal this summer, the animosity could well spread further when national team coach Rudi Völler follows up his comments on the row in person. The last thing he will want right now, as his team stumbles through its list of friendly games ahead of the tournament, is his two top keepers at each other's throats on the plane.

I'm the best, claims Lehmann

The controversy started after Germany scraped through Wednesday night's preparation game with Croatia in which a last minute goal by substitute Carsten Ramelow secured a nervy 2-1 victory. Lehmann, currently atop the English Premiership with his London club, gave an interview with German soccer magazine Kicker in which he criticized Oliver Kahn's performance and stated that he is the best German goalkeeper and should replace Kahn in the national team.

"The better player has to play," Germany's number two was quoted in Thursday's issue of the magazine. "My performances are more consistent. Over the past year I have lost two games and made two mistakes. I can't really say that anybody else is better than I am." Lehmann watched from the bench in Split on Wednesday night and saw his rival make a number of unforced errors -- one which led to Croatia's equalizer -- but also many fine saves.

"Of course, it depends on Rudi Völler," he said. "But if you keep performing well, you eventually get rewarded. That’s exactly what I’m asking for now,” the 34-year-old former Borussia Dortmund man added.

Personal jibe shows depth of dislike

Reserve goalkeeper Lehmann and Kahn, the undisputed number one, have made no secret of the fact that they don't get on and refuse to speak to each other. "I didn't know we were supposed to talk," Lehmann said. "I don't have a 24-year-old girlfriend. I have a different life." His comments referred to Kahn's affair with a Munich barmaid that started when his wife was pregnant and made headlines in Germany for weeks.

Kahn am Boden

Kahn has been hurt by Lehmann's comments.

Kahn retaliated while playing the role of victim: "I am deeply hurt by Lehmann's statements," he told reporters. "Lehmann can believe what he wants. I’ve never needed to stoop to such a level as it sometimes appears (in the Kicker article). What you read can sometimes be incredible, but everyone can decide for themselves how low they want to go. This is as low as it can get."

“Lehmann can’t cope with being the number two, he doesn’t seem to be able to live with it,” added Kahn who plans to carry on until the 2006 World Cup finals on home soil.

Völler to address row on London visit

"Jens has gone too far," national coach Völler told reporters on Thursday. "I was planning to go to England in the next couple of weeks anyway and we will talk about it. I don't want to react emotionally to this immediately after an international (match)."

Hitzfeld, Kahn's coach at Bayern Munich, said he felt Lehmann deserved to be punished for his comments. "I would not tolerate it at Bayern if the reserve goalkeeper was to speak about Kahn that way," he told a news conference on Thursday.

Der Kaiser adds his own views

Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer adds his weight to the argument.

The severity of the row has reached the upper echelons of the sport with Bayern president and German World Cup statesman Franz Beckenbauer joining in, unsurprisingly, on the side of his team's number one and captain.

"Lehmann's statements are cheeky, uncooperative and in bad taste," said Beckenbauer "Rudi Völler has to consider this carefully and act accordingly," the World Cup-winning captain and coach wrote in a column in Friday's mass-circulation Bild daily.

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