JENS LEHMANN interview ahead of 2014 World Cup
Jens is a Laureus Ambassador and a former World Cup goalkeeper for Germany
Interview date – May 12, 2014
Laureus editorial content is available for Print, Online and Broadcast use free of charge provided full credit is given, for example….’Jens Lehmann speaking to Laureus.com’. Editors using this material are requested to carry reference to Jens’ work for the
Laureus Sport for Good Foundation in their stories
Laureus Host: Who do you think will be the best goalkeepers in the World Cup?
Jens Lehmann: For me, one of the best goalkeepers, if not still the best, is Petr Cech. He won't be there. Manuel Neuer is a fantastic goalkeeper; probably right now in the tournament the best you can see. And Iker Casillas will be there, but I do not rate him as high as Manuel Neuer. But still, these two teams [Germany and Spain] will compete for the championship at the end of the tournament. Brazil we will see will be a strong team. There will be some other goalkeepers, who are currently not playing at a very high level in the Champions League, apart, from Courtois. Courtois is a really promising talent and could make a difference with Belgium, because Belgium is probably the most underrated team right now because they have got a great group of players. So I guess that even Courtois will be among the best there.
Question: You have seen the rise of a different generation of German footballers since the World Cup in Germany in 2006, but why has Germany not won any big titles?
Jens Lehmann: I think there is one reason, and it is called Spain. They have got an even better generation of players. But I said at the last win at the European Championship that probably this is the last win for some time. That's all our hopes in Germany; that Germany this time can win it and can even beat the Spanish.
Question: Do you think Germany would beat Spain if the two teams were matched now?
Jens Lehmann: Germany is always ready to give you a hard fight at the end of a tournament. We hope so, as well, this time. But the conditions right now are a little bit problematic because there are some key players that just came back after major injuries. And this always gives you some uncertainty in terms of preparation; will these players be really fit for challenging other players, like, for example, in the German group, with Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo or some other players.
Question: If Germany do not win the World Cup, should Joachim Löw stay as national coach?
Jens Lehmann: I think it will [depend] on how the German team is progressing in the tournament. If we become second or probably third after having lost in the semi-final due to penalties or due to a strange referee decision, I think in that case and how the team looks within itself, Joachim Löw can stay on. If it will be disappointing, knocked out somewhere, everybody knows probably he has to leave then.
Question: If Spain win the World Cup again and having won the last two European Championships, would that make them the best ever national team?
Jens Lehmann: Yes, then they will be, but I do not expect them to win it again. I think they have peaked already. You see that with the Barcelona team right now, there is some uncertainty. The Real Madrid team is based and dependent on some other foreign players. So the Spanish are strong, but for some reason, I think or I doubt them to win the tournament.
Question: Barcelona and Spain have a particular style of football based on touch and possession. There is a debate about that style of play at the moment. Do you think this kind of play is outdated?
Jens Lehmann: No, it's not. But as in every fantastic set-up, as a coach, you always have to make improvements. And when possession and touch is not combined with pace, it gives you not a lot. I think that right now Bayern Munich, who are considered to be the best team in the world and who play this style under Guardiola, have to find a new way to actually accelerate their game. This is their problem right now. This is why they have lost to Real Madrid [in the Champions League].
Question: Do you think Guardiola will be able to do that? Does he have the capacity to move Bayern Munich on?
Jens Lehmann: Yes, I think so.
Question: Júlio César, the goalkeeper of the Brazilian team, has missed half a season and now plays in Toronto. What is your opinion of him as a goalkeeper and would it be a risk for Brazil to play him in the World Cup?
Jens Lehmann: For a goalkeeper, it's different. If there is no alternative in terms of other people, it should not be a risk. But I think because he dropped his level a little bit, it could be not perfect for Brazil.
Question: So you are saying it is a question of whether there is any better goalkeeper?
Jens Lehmann: Well, if you go from Inter Milan to Queens Park Rangers and now to Toronto, it is obvious that you have not improved and as a coach, you normally like players who improve.
Question: If there are problems of civil disturbance in Brazil, will that affect the players?
Jens Lehmann: Normally, it does not affect you as a player, unless there are big riots and the whole nation is involved. Then the political parties use it for their purposes. But I do not expect that in Brazil in the next month. There will probably be some minor incidents, somewhere here, somewhere there, but not more.
Question: You were an Arsenal player. Do you think Cazorla should be in Spain's World Cup squad?
Jens Lehmann: What I can see is that he is a great player, but he's not a leader.
Question: Do you have to be a leader to get into the Spanish team at the moment?
Jens Lehmann: Not necessarily. You cannot fault a lot of players who play up front; you do not need to be a leader. You should have some leaders in your team, but at the end of the day, it is about the different qualities of each player. So if the quality is there, you need less leaders.
Question: What about Villa and Mata, do you think they should be in the Spanish group for the World Cup?
Jens Lehmann: I can't really judge on Villa because I have not seen him quite often. But Mata, definitely, because he is used to the English pace, the English toughness in the game and they will fuel the Spanish, as well.
Question: Can you give us some World Cup predictions:
Jens Lehmann: Winner – Germany ; Other team in the final – Brazil.
Question: Who will be the best player in the tournament?
Jens Lehmann: I don't know. I mean the best player in the tournament will then be either a Brazilian or a German, because consistency combined with success is always great and very attractive. But the Brazilian team combine quality with togetherness, so it is hard to say who will make a difference there.
Question: Top goalscorer?
Jens Lehmann: I predict Aguero this time. Surprise Team – Belgium. They are the underdogs and they can make a big difference. They can make this tournament very successful for the first time for their country.
Question: You are a Laureus Ambassador and the patron of the Laureus Kicking Girls project. Can you tell us about this and your work for Laureus?
Jens Lehmann: Yes, it's been an honour to have been asked by Laureus to become one of their Ambassadors, because I think they are a fantastic sports organisation. They are great sports people and it is well run.
In my particular project, you are dealing with children, girls, who are from backgrounds which are socially really disadvantaged and sometimes they do not have money to pay for their sports. And furthermore, they are from backgrounds where people have migrated out of their country into Germany and where they do not really like their girls being part of football teams, which are normally run by male coaches.
In our project, the coaches are female. They have educated themselves in the project. So from a certain age onwards, they can start an educational career there as a coach, and people there from Turkey, from some other southern European or Eastern countries and these cultures, they like their girls being coached by girls, as well. We support that, and myself, I take part as I have a daughter myself.
I was quite fortunate with my football playing and can afford some nice life for my children. But these people are not that fortunate and so that's why I want to give something back and support this project.
Question: A few questions to finish, on your former club Arsenal, who play in the FA Cup Final on Saturday. You were the goalkeeper the last time Arsenal won a trophy in 2005. How important is it for them to win a trophy again?
Jens Lehmann: Oh, that's very important. I mean, that's important for the club. That's important for the manager. That's important for the players, because they have to win. The brand, Arsenal, is still a good brand, but it is not considered to be among the best football brands in the world any more. When I was playing there, it was probably considered one of the two or three top brands in the world. It's a little bit disappointing that it's not there any more, so they have to win it [the FA Cup] and they have to start winning something. And that will start next Saturday.
Question: Do you think Arsenal are capable of winning trophies, regularly again in the future?
Jens Lehmann: I think in the current condition, it's going to be very hard for them to win something. They have to make changes.
Question: Is this about spending more money or is it more than that?
Jens Lehmann: Well, spending alone never wins you something. But it's a good basis when you have money. Money needs to be well spent.
Question: Arsène Wenger, who you played for, has been in charge of many great Arsenal teams. Is he still the man to make Arsenal successful again?
Jens Lehmann: Well, I'm not sure. I think Arsène represents the club as no other. But I think, as well, sometimes the structure has to be not only on two shoulders or on one man; but sometimes you need to have a couple of people who define and control and monitor the progress of the club and the philosophy. Because particularly the clubs are always growing and the demands for a manager, they are growing. And if you have to do that always by yourself, I doubt that you can be successful.
Question: Are you saying he needs more assistants with him?
Jens Lehmann: No, I don't say that. The assistants he has are very good. But I think what I've learned from Arsène is you can be fantastic, but if you don't perform fantastically, he gives you a rest.
Question: His philosophy - it's time for a rest, even if you're playing well. Is that your issue?
Jens Lehmann: That's his philosophy, and his philosophy on myself, particularly. And right now, I think, yes, he still has to live this philosophy.
Question: So Fabianski and, Szczesny are both very good. If you were the manager of Arsenal, which of those two goalkeepers would you play in the FA Cup Final?
Jens Lehmann: Who played so far? It was Fabianski, as I remember. What was the score at Norwich in the last match? 2-0 to Arsenal. Well, he will play next Saturday as well.
Question: There's an idea in England that since David Dein [Vice-Chairman] left, it has been too much for Arsène to deal with on his own?
Jens Lehmann: I think Ivan Gazidis [Chief Executive] is doing a great job there, but Ivan Gazidis came in when the times have changed a little bit. David Dein was supporting Arsène in terms of football, evaluation of players. But at the time, Arsène had the advantage of knowing the French market fantastically well. The markets have changed. A club like Arsenal which is mentally dependent on Arsène's view of football and his philosophy and his detection of new players, I think that's not enough anymore. Still great, but you can't do everything. A little bit of support in terms of knowledge outside the training pitch, yes, football knowledge outside the training pitch, in my opinion would be helpful.
Question: So you would like to see him sign this new contract and stay but maybe with a sporting director or someone alongside him to assist?
Jens Lehmann: Yes, I think somebody like that. He still can be supported.
Question: There's a real German influence with the club with Mertesacker, Podolski, Ozil, Gnabry and others, the German influence is growing. Are you pleased to see that, as a German?
Jens Lehmann: I would be more pleased if they had won the [Premier League] championship this year. No matter if they were Germans or not. They could have won it. They have not won it again. So I'm not pleased.
Question: Do you think they will win it in the next two years? Do you think they have the squad or is more needed?
Jens Lehmann: When you don't win it, more is always needed in every department.
Question: Mesut Ozil has come in and may well start at the World Cup. Do you think he is of the calibre of player that Arsène needs to bring in from now on, players of that type?
Jens Lehmann: You are a world?class player, first, when you play most of the games. You can't be a world?class player when you're not available. And secondly, again, they have not won the championship this year. So more is needed.