Never Mind The Ballacks

Controversial keepers kick up a stink

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Controversial German goalkeepers are nothing new but never has their notoriety been so great, with Thomas Kraft, Jens Lehmann and Co. making waves in the pressroom, the boardroom, the courtroom - and even the psychologists' couch.

During a typically busy week of managerial changes (just the three Bundesliga clubs this time) goalkeepers have been at the forefront.

No more so than at Bayern Munich, who sacked coach Louis van Gaal with immediate effect after a frustrating 1-1 draw at Nuremberg. Bayern, desperate for points to reach the Champions League next season, were cruising to victory against their Bavarian rivals. But when keeper Kraft decided to join in the fun by dribbling out of goal, the ball landed at the feet of a grateful Christian Eigler, who banged the ball into an empty net from 35 metres.

Bayern's watching hierarchy was furious, perhaps recalling Ruud Gullit's remark that if goalkeepers could play football, they would not be goalkeepers.

But while shot stoppers are often scapegoats, Kraft was harshly blamed for the demise of one of Europe's most illustrious coaches.

Bayern president Uli Hoeness never saw eye to eye with van Gaal, who he believed should have kept faith with the experienced Hans-Joerg Butt. After firing the coach, Hoeness shot from the hip in an I-told-you-so press conference.

"All this crap started after the decision to replace Hans-Joerg in goal," Hoeness fumed. "The board repeatedly advised Louis van Gaal against doing that, but he went ahead regardless. He didn't learn anything and that led to complete unrest in the whole defence."

The baffled Kraft was shocked to be in the eye of the Bayern storm. ''OK, the goal was my fault, but otherwise I have not done anything wrong."

To be fair to Kraft, Bayern haven't hidden their admiration for Schalke keeper Manuel Neuer - which in turn caused sensational fan protests at the Allianz Arena.

''Neuer is to us what (Christoph) Daum is to Hoeness'' read one banner. Hoeness, it should be remembered, accused then Leverkusen coach Daum of taking illegal drugs, a claim that ultimately derailed Daum's hopes of becoming Germany's national coach a decade ago.

Now, Bayern's big shots are trying to defuse the situation, with honorary president Franz Beckenbauer apologising for the supporters' behaviour, and Hoeness insisting that if Butt had been retained ''the idea of Manuel Neuer coming to the club would never have become such a big issue - and we would have never have had a problem with our fans.''

Translation: if only Van Gaal had listened to us over Butt, we would never have had to look for a new goalkeeper.

Legendary Bayern keeper Sepp Maier weighed in to defend Kraft. ''Sure, in Nurnberg Thomas was uncertain. But it's no surprise with all the discussions about Manuel Neuer."

Kraft's walkabout was one of several pieces of comic keeping last weekend.

Tom Starke has been as erratic as the Hoffenheim defenders in front of him this season, and when he allowed a harmless looking corner to sail over his head and into the net against Freiburg, his coach Marco Pezzaiuoli must have feared the worst. Sure enough, the club's billionaire chairman Dietmar Hopp rapidly announced Pezzaiuoli's services would not be required next season.

The next day at Leverkusen, St Pauli keeper Benedikt Pliquett was showing all the guile of a nervous toddler trying to catch a beach ball on a blustery day.

The Pirates fought bravely against their title-chasing rivals but Pliquett's blunder allowed Lars Bender to score the winner and condemn them to a 17th defeat of the season.

It was all too much for Holger Stanislawski, who quit St Pauli after 18 years as player, sporting director and coach.

''All these ups and downs have left me really exhausted,'' he said this week. ''I just cannot, just do not, want to function like this anymore.''

Stanislawski's unusually candid show of weakness strikes a chord in Germany, a country that has never forgotten the tragic suicide of national team keeper Robert Enke, who hid his depression from the eyes of the football world.

So when Cologne keeper Michael Rensing discussed his personal problems this week, he was applauded by players, coaches and even psychologists.

Bayern terminated Rensing's contract last summer and the goalkeeper was unemployed, unable to even find a club to train with.

''The last six months were tough, but I learned a lot of life lessons from that. And that's not just an empty phrase, I really mean it. It humbled me, and I got in touch with my life outside of football and put it in order.''

No one could ever accuse Lehmann of being humble. Never Mind the Ballacks readers will remember that Werder Bremen's Tim Wiese was so angry when Lehmann mocked his keeping skills on national television that he replied that the former national No. 1 ''belongs on the Muppet Show''.

Wiese (as well as many Arsenal fans) hoped that they had seen the last of Lehmann last summer. But just before coming out of retirement, the Arsenal man sued Wiese for 20 000 euros in damages.

But then, if there is one man who can always be counted on to keep keepers in the news, it's Lehmann.

Andreas Evagora, Deputy Head Eurosport 2

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