Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Oliver Kahn is one of the all-time great goalkeepers, and also one of my favorite players, but he's gone too far this time. Kahn was recently suspended for a game and fined 25,000 euros for "disciplinary reasons" by Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld. The club didn't explicitly say why Kahn received such punishment, but according to the ESPN Soccernet article linked above, it's likely related to the recent criticisms he made of Bayern's new signings in kicker magazine, one of the leading German soccer publications.

"The new players need to get used to our high expectations." Kahn told the magazine. "It is not good enough to make a bright start. One or two (players) have got to work out that two or three good games are not enough. Bayern is not Marseille or Fiorentina; we are like Real, Man United, Barca or Milan. It is hard to get a team together because we always need three interpreters. There is no pleasure in our game anymore, and every player has got to ask themselves why."
Kahn is wrong here on several counts. Firstly, he singles out Franck Ribery and Luca Toni (Marseille and Fiorentina are their old clubs) for special criticism. Anyone who has watched a Bayern match this year will tell you that Ribery and Toni have consistently been two of their best players: Ribery has brought a brilliant new creativity to their midfield, while Toni has formed one of the most lethal strike partnerships in all of Europe with Miroslav Klose. Sure, language barriers can make team comraderie difficult, but Bayern gains far more from the inclusion of Ribery and Toni than they would from having a linguistically homogeneous team. It's a reality of high-level soccer now that players come from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds: this diversity hasn't held back clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, and Barcelona, so I don't see why it's suddenly a problem for Bayern. A footballer should be judged by his performance on the pitch alone, not his racial, cultural, or linguistic background.

Secondly, Kahn went about his criticisms the wrong way. If he has a problem with his teammates, he should talk to them about it first, and then if it remains unresolved, he should go to the manager. As the captain, he does bear some responsibility for how the team is playing, so if he feels Ribery and Toni aren't performing as well as they could, he should go to them directly or call them out in the locker room. As a member of the press myself, it sounds odd to say this, but the media is not the place to resolve a conflict within an organization, although it makes for great ccopy (just look at the trouble the Toronto Maple Leafs have gotten themselves into with Richard Peddie's comments about hiring the wrong general manger). Teams' dirty laundry should remain in the locker room, not be aired out in front of the fourth estate. As a long-serving captain at both club and national level, Kahn should be well aware of this by now.

Thirdly, the captaincy itself is a problem. Can Kahn's teammates have any trust in him as a leader after he's shown his willingness to throw them from the train? Moreover, can his manager count on him any more? This situation looks especially bad, as Kahn is not only Bayern's captain, but a national hero and the face of the franchise. For hockey fans, this would be the equivalent of the Canucks suspending Markus Naslund or the Leafs benching Mats Sundin: can you imagine the furor that would arise? I think Hitzfeld made the right decision here, as someone had to show Kahn that this type of backstabbing wouldn't be tolerated, but the negative side effect is that his response has made this into a global story, as opposed to a few comments in a German-language magazine. It's focused a lot of negative attention on both Kahn and the club, which doesn't bode well for the future. Hitzfeld may even be forced to remove Kahn from the captaincy, which would be tragic, but perhaps necessary to ensure team unity.

The most unusual part of this scenario is that Bayern have actually performed well to date. A disappointing fourth-place finish last season left them out of the Champions League and without even a cup title to their name, but they reloaded and restocked, bringing in new talent like Ribery and Toni. In fact, they spent nearly $94 million US on new signings, more than the majority of clubs in much bigger leagues than the Bundesliga. This catapulted them to fifth in the world in Sports Illustrated's pre-season power rankings, ahead of such giants as Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Liverpool. So far, they haven't disappointed: they lead the Bundesliga by two points over Werder Bremen, and they're tied for second in Group F of the UEFA Cup, sitting only one point back of leaders Bolton (who have also played an extra game). Sounds like anything but a crisis to me, which makes Kahn's actions all the more unusual. He's really hurt his team here, not only by breeding an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust but also by forcing them to do without his goalkeeping services for Saturday's clash against Hertha Berlin. Soccer is at its very essence a team game, and Kahn would do well to remember that. For the moment, Bayern fans can emphasize with James T. Kirk and his angry cry of "Kahn!"

Links of the Day: A round-up of the best of the interweb

- Richard Starnes on Stephen Ireland's latest antics
- Bobby McMahon's latest Speakers' Corner responses: he likes Capello for England and has some great views on how fans should learn a club's history
- L.A. Galaxy manager Ruud Gullit and AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf have some reservations about the Capello for England movement
- Burglaries aren't limited to American football players: some thugs broke into Steven Gerrard's home last night, following with the Liverpool trend (Pepe Reina, Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt and many more have all been burglarized recently)
- The New York Times' Jeffrey Marcus on the recent soccer violence in Mexico

- Zanstrom previews tonight's Canucks-Ducks matchup
- The Vancouver Province's Gord McIntyre's take on Roberto Luongo's injury and the end of Brendan Morrison's ironman streak
- The Province's Ed Willes on the lack of offensive play in the NHL
- Alanah on the Canucks' current injury woes and Mason Raymond's rise to stardom
- James Duthie on the lack of trades in the NHL
- James Mirtle on how bloggers and mainstream media don't need to hate each other.
- David Staples of the Edmonton Journal has an interesting blog post about Shawn Horcoff, trading Joffrey Lupul not necessarily being so bad, and giving Kevin Lowe the benefit of the doubt (can't say I agree with him, but he makes a good case)
- Varius clears through all the muck surrounding the Ducks' tagging room

- Neate Sager has a nice piece on Raptors' guard T.J. Ford's injury last night
- The Globe's Michael Grange on how bad this injury could be and what it could mean for Ford's career, especially given his spinal cord problems
- The Canadian Press reports that Ford's 'doing better' and should be back in T.O. today
- The Times' Howard Beck on Isiah Thomas' latest confrontation with fans

- Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci on why former Montreal Expo Tim Raines deserves to make the Baseball Hall of Fame
- The Associated Press on the looming release of the Mitchell Report
- The Globe's Jeff Blair on the Paul Lo Duca saga
- ESPN's Keith Law on the recent controversy over his non-admission to the BBWAA (check out Neate's post here for the original details)

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