To celebrate Jens Lehmann's birthday, we pulled the German goalkeeper's first Arsenal Magazine interview from our archives. This piece first appeared in summer 2003.
There can’t have been a day that passed during the summer without a new goalkeeper being linked to Arsenal.
The departure of David Seaman after 13 years’ service left a huge void to be filled, and after scouring the continent Arsène Wenger is convinced he’s got his man.
Jens Lehmann is a 33 year-old with European and domestic honours, and 16 German caps to his name. In addition he speaks fluent English and has already shown glimpses of his undoubted talent during the Gunners’ pre-season programme.
The six foot three stopper has no shortage of big match experience either. He has played in, and won European Finals, won championships in two countries, and his Champions League experience includes two appearances against Arsenal last season.
A thoughtful and confident man, Jens has a steely determination to make an impact in the Premiership, and if his early training sessions with Arsenal are any indication, it looks like he’ll relish the physical nature of the English game.
The goalkeeper caught up with the Arsenal Magazine on the day after his first Arsenal appearance on British soil - the 1-1 draw at Celtic.
Tell us a bit about how you started, have you always been a goalkeeper? No, I started as a forward. I didn’t go in goal until I moved to my first big club and at first they were surprised, but after some months it was ok. I was a striker when I was four, then I was a goalkeeper for a while when I was six, then a striker again. I got my first move to a big club when I was ten and since then I’ve played in goal.
What have been the highlights of your career so far? I would say the highlight was when I won the UEFA Cup with Schalke, a team that had never been in a European final before. We beat Inter Milan on penalties and I saved a penalty in the shoot out.
Another highlight was when I became the first goalie to score a goal in Germany. It was against Borussia Dortmund for Schalke which is a derby game, like Arsenal v Tottenham over here. That was a header in the last minute. We were losing 2-1 so I went forward for a corner and headed it in, then I went crazy celebrating!
Other high points so far were when I won the German title in 2002, the Italian title with Milan and also going to two World Cups. Although I have to say I didn’t play much when Milan won the Italian championship.
Why, What happened at AC Milan? Well I was there for six months but I got injured and then I didn’t play for about six weeks. Then the German national team boss said to me ‘you need to play otherwise I’ll send you from the Germany squad’. At that time I had two offers and decided to take the one from Dortmund.
Was there a chance you could have come to England back then? Yes, because the other offer was from Liverpool. I had to decide between Dortmund and Liverpool. I went over to Liverpool from Milan but it was a big change. I didn’t have a family at the time so I didn’t want to move there and I decided to go back to Germany.
But the time is right now to come to England? Yes, of course it’s an honour for me to be asked here. I wanted to go to a foreign club at the age of 28 but it didn’t turn out how I wanted it. So now at 33 it’s fantastic for me to get a second chance.
How did you view English football from abroad? Well it’s very fast, there is a great atmosphere, probably the best of all the European leagues. There are very strong players over here, and at Arsenal there is a very good chance of winning national honours and European honours. I didn’t know much about Arsenal until about 1998 when they won the ‘double’ but I know a lot about them now.
You played at Highbury for Dortmund last season, but what are your first impressions of the Training Ground? Well actually I have been here before too. The German team used this facility when we were in England before the last ever match at Wembley. We stayed here for four days so I knew how good it was before I signed for the Club.
How are you getting on with the other players, have you settled in to the squad now? Yes, they are nice guys, and very good players. But I have to say you don’t see the real character of a player until during the season. Especially after a defeat for example that’s when you see what they are like by the way they react. But at the moment I’m getting on well with everybody.
How difficult will it be to follow in David Seaman’s footsteps? Well I’ll say nearly impossible. He was here for more than ten years and he’s a legend here. It will be difficult but I’m here to do my job, I will be myself and I’ll try to bring the same success to the Club that David Seaman did.
When did you first learn of Arsenal’s interest in you? How quickly did your transfer go through? It happened very quickly, it was done in two or three weeks. I know the market and I knew Arsenal were looking for an experienced goalkeeper, and there aren’t many about.
Do you wish you had played in a different era so your career didn’t coincide with Oliver Kahn? No because had I played in a different era I would not have had the same benefits from playing that I do now. I’m really enjoying playing now, with the big television coverage and the new stadiums, it’s a good time to play. My career is far from over and I’ll think more about it when I’ve finished playing.
Your debut should be against Manchester United in the Community Shield, will there be a lot of pressure on you that afternoon? Sure, every game Arsenal play has a lot of pressure but I don’t think I should be nervous. I’ve been told about the matches between Arsenal and Manchester United, and I know they are very competitive. And the derby matches against Tottenham, maybe you could score in that derby too and make yourself a hero! Well it sounds like a very hot derby and I’m looking forward to playing in it. But hopefully I won’t need to score because that means we will be needing a goal. I used to get forward occasionally in Germany because I’m tall and I can jump high, but I don’t know if it will be necessary here. Maybe the coaches will tell me to stay in the goal.
I also set three goals up when I got forward, one of them against Glasgow Rangers in the UEFA Cup, and I’ve scored a penalty too.
Apart from goalscoring, what are your other strengths as a goalkeeper? I have a good eye for the game, and I can kick well with either my left or right, although my strongest foot is my right. But in emergencies I can use either. I can also punch well on either side, and I think my all round game is good. My only disadvantage perhaps is that I’ve never been very spectacular.
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