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By Tony Attwood
Jens Lehmann was born 10 November 1969 is the only player in the entire history of League football in England to have played through the complete season without ever being on the losing team. He played in total 200 games for Arsenal – and was the only member of the Invincibles to play in every single league game that season.
Through his career he was awarded
- UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year: 1997, 2006
- UEFA Club Football Awards Best Goalkeeper: 2005–06
- FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 2006
Despite all this, and all his achievements with Arsenal, and his 67 caps for Germany, there were a number of Arsenal supporters who criticised him continuously largely because for all his brilliance, he did occasionally made mistakes – as all keepers do.
But to put these lapses in perspective, take a look at his achievements with Germany:
- FIFA World Cup Runner-Up: 2002
- FIFA Confederations Cup Third Place: 2005
- FIFA World Cup Third Place: 2006
- UEFA European Football Championship Runner-up: 2008
In 2012, Jens gave an interview about his time at Arsenal, and in particular his relationship with Arsene Wenger. He said that Mr Wenger “is a coach who not only inspires you on the pitch but as well off the pitch, because when you talk to him you are always finding it very exciting and you are always getting some great information about some other things in life.
“I think that makes a great coach as well. And he made Arsenal – he bought and sold so many players with a fantastic financial track record, that actually the new stadium and everything he has built comes down to him and to his performance.
“So I quite enjoyed working for him, whereas at times it was psychologically very, very demanding, and I still had to recover from that even years after.
“I was arguing with him quite often, particularly when he took me out of goal, but then after 20 minutes of arguments we would talk for another half an hour on private things, very smooth and relaxed, so there was always a professional relationship and a private one, and the private one is still very good right now, which is quite fortunate because I’m doing my coaching licence at Arsenal, and so I’m looking over his shoulder. They let me train the reserves sometimes and the Under 18s, which is a big gesture, and I really appreciate that.”
What he didn’t mention is a particular connection he has with Mr Wenger. Jens studied economics at the University of Münster. Mr Wenger got his at the University of Strasbourg. They probably debated inflation and Thatcherite M3 theory.
In football terms, Jens Lehmann started out in 1988 with Schalke 04 and despite a difficult start he stayed for ten years. He even scored for Schalke with a penalty on two occasions. He also won the Uefa Cup with them, beating Inter in the final after saving a penalty in the shootout.
After that he went to Milan but was dropped early on, and quickly moved to Borussia Dortmund. As with Inter he started poorly, but recovered quickly and reached the Uefa cup final before winning the league.
Jens joined Arsenal on 25 July 2003 to replace David Seaman, and despite his defeat-free first season he was criticised from the off. The criticism reached the point in the next season that he was replaced by Almunia, but Lehmann quickly regained his place, and became man of the match in the 2005 cup final – not least for saving Scholes’ penalty.
He continued well through 2005/6 setting up the record for 10 consecutive games without letting in a goal in the Champions League. That totalled 853 minutes without conceding a goal between 22 March 2005 and 13 September 2006.
Observing the rise of Łukasz Fabiański, on 29 January 2008, Jens Lehmann said he would leave the club at the end of the season, partly because of his treatment by fans. But he returned to the side on 2 February 2008, with Almunia injured and then catching the flu.
Lehman came on as a sub for the game v Everton on 4 May 2008 for the last home game of the season. He was given an overwhelming ovation and in his unique style he turned and bowed to each side of the ground. It was his final appearance.
He then moved to VfB Stuttgart with his first match being a friendly against Arsenal on 30 July 2008. He stayed with the club and retired for the first time on 30 June 2010.
On 14 March 2011 talks were opened with Arsenal to come back as cover as Arsenal by then only had Almunia fit. In fact Jens Lehmann had already reached the agreement to work at Arsenal on his coaching qualifications and so he was already based in London. On 17 March 2011 he re-signed for Arsenal was the sub keeper against West Bromwich Albion on 19 March 2011, despite being not fully fit to play. He played for Arsenal’s reserves on 29 March 2011 against Wigan. Arsenal lost 1-2.
Then amazingly on 10 April 2011, Jens played away to Blackpool after Almunia was injured in the warm up. It was his 200th Arsenal game (including the one as sub) and he became Arsenal’s oldest ever player in a Premier League game.
On 29 January 2019, he was appointed assistant coach of FC Augsburg.
In his private life Jens is a senior member of the youth football foundation Stiftung Jugendfußball, founded 2000 by Jürgen Klinsmann. He is an ambassador of the foundation Power-Child Campus South Africa and of the charity founded by Bob Wilson.
He even appeared in the 2010 film Themba as a football coach. But his eccentricity has never left him. In February 2014 he posted on Twitter, “My dear followers, I am asking for some help. My bag has been stolen today out of a red fiat 500 at Duke Street, London, W1, near Selfridges. If the bag and all personal contents can be returned to me by Wednesday, I will pay 2.000 pounds. Please contact me by Twitter”
Except he mis-wrote bag and put “back” instead.
Personally, I loved the guy – he was brilliant in the unbeaten season, and for much of the rest of his time at Arsenal, and he brought a wonderful freshness and light. Even when needlessly giving away a penalty at Tottenham in the match where we won the league, I still enjoyed his performance. No one, I am sure, will ever emulate his record.
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