Kahn knocked off pedestal by affair

Oliver Kahn was long hailed as a national hero for leading Germany to the World Cup finals last year

Oliver Kahn during a training session. The private life of the German international came to the limelight, when he admitted that he is having an affair with a 21-year-old Munich waitress. — Pic. AFP-

Kahn, voted Best Player of the World Cup tournament, admitted that he had extra-marital affair days before his wife was due to give birth to their second child, a revelation which has caused a storm of condemnation.

"I know myself how destructive and stupid this is," Kahn said in an interview with Bunte magazine, which like many German publications put his fall from the pedestal on its Cover, under the title "Double life with the disco girl."

Kahn's personal life has been a page-one story in the country's best-selling Bild daily for five straight days and details about the romance with the 21-year-old Munich nightclub waitress have featured on evening news programmes all week.

It has also been the favourite topic of discussions at countless office water coolers, on talk radio stations and commuter trains, in pubs and in soccer circles around the nation.

"Simone Kahn shouldn't blame herself for this irresponsible man but grab the children, grab the money and throw him out the door," Silvia Matthaus, ex-wife of former Bayern Munich captain Lothar Matthaus, told Bild newspaper.

"Everyone everywhere is talking about Kahn," wrote Bild, which devoted two full pages to him.

Photographs of Kahn, 33, entering the apartment of the barmaid late night and leaving early the next morning appeared in a Munich magazine "Die Aktuelle," prompting him to admit the affair.

"It's true, I have private problems at the moment," Kahn said in a statement. "There is another woman in my life. I have talked about it with my wife, Simone." Kahn was subsequently booed heavily every time he touched the ball on in a match for Bayern Munich in Cottbus, which Bayern won 2-0. He walked away from interviewers who asked him about the affair.

The attacks on Kahn have been particularly astonishing because Germans are ordinarily forgiving and tolerant when their political leaders, celebrities and sporting heroes are caught committing adultery.

Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was forced to admit an affair with a Brazilian model but has stayed with his wife, Bayern's executive Franz Beckenbauer fathered a child during a fling at the club's Christmas party but also stayed initially with his wife, and tennis hero Boris Becker fathered an illegitimate child with a Russian model in London while his wife was pregnant but did not immediately split up with his wife. Their reputations remain stellar.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's political career was also not hurt at all after he left his third wife in the midst of an affair with a young journalist. He married the single mother, days after the divorce and managed to win election to the country's highest office less than a year later. But Kahn's affair has provoked a different response because his 32-year-old wife is just days away from delivering their baby.

"By allowing himself to be photographed in the morning leaving the flat of his mistress, Kahn showed himself to be a third-class adulterer," wrote Germany's leading magazine Stern.

Bunte magazine also savagely attacked Kahn.

"Soccer marriages are never the most stable relationships but a soccer star has never left his very pregnant wife so publicly humiliated as Kahn," wrote Bunte. "Not only the affair but the way he did this is causing outrage. No-one has any sympathy left for him." Kahn is not only captain of the Germany team that unexpectedly reached the finals of last year's World Cup, where they were beaten 2-0 by Brazil, but is also captain of the Bayern Munich side that won the 2001 Champions League title.

Long admired by Germans as an intense, self-critical and hardworking goalkeeper, Kahn had a reputation for years for being somewhat awkward and slightly colourless off the field with long, 1970s-style hair and unfashionable clothing.

Respected as the epitome of the German work ethic, Kahn was also often photographed playing with his daughter in swimming pools on holidays and seemed the quintessential family man.

But that changed after Bayern Munich won the Champions League title over Valencia in 2001.

Kahn traded in his family sedan for a Ferrari, cut his hair and began styling it like a rock star.

"I need certain freedoms from time to time and I have to be able to go bar hopping with my friends from time to time," he told Bunte. "A marriage with a soccer player is always endangered. Soccer players are often on the road, away from their families, enjoying glamour and fame and that can lead to marriage problems." Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball award for the best player at a World Cup after his superb reflexes and raw determination helped Germany to reach the final of the tournament in South Korea and Japan.

He has long been regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the sport, if not the best. One of his most remarkable performances was in the 2001 Champions League final, when he saved three penalties in the shoot-out to earn Bayern Munich victory over Valencia.

Despite his fall from grace, Germany trainer Rudi Voeller said Kahn was still the number one goalkeeper and his sponsors have also been quick to pledge to continue backing him.

"Kahn's standing as a great sports personality has not in any way been hurt," said Hans Seger, programme managing director at Germany's pay television network Premiere. "He's still a top symbolic figure for us," said Matthias Nierle, public relations manager at Adidas shoe company.