Depression in football: Kahn: Billions of people watched me fail

Every football fan who remembers the 2002 World Cup final in Japan knows this picture: Oliver Kahn, then 33 years old, sat for a few minutes after the final whistle at the post of his goal in the stadium in Yokohama.

Depression in football: Kahn: Billions of people watched me fail

Every football fan who remembers the 2002 World Cup final in Japan knows this picture: Oliver Kahn, then 33 years old, sat for a few minutes after the final whistle at the post of his goal in the stadium in Yokohama. His gaze is blank.

The goalkeeper, who was praised as the "Titan", just made a very earthly mistake in the final against Brazil (0:2). He rebounded a shot from the Brazilian Rivaldo in the 67th minute, and star striker Ronaldo gave Brazil the lead. There are still 23 minutes to play, but it's the preliminary decision.

Kahn - fallible. Kahn - devastated. A man plunged into deep self-doubt. "Two billion people watched me fail," he says. While he was still in goal, the possible reactions of the public passed before his inner eye.

Oliver Kahn is now 53 years old, CEO of FC Bayern Munich, a powerful man on the football stage with a Master of Business Administration degree. Long gone was the rage that bit the opposing striker in Dortmund's neck and grabbed his teammates by the nape of the neck to shake them up. Respected, feared even more, greeted with monkey hoots and bananas in opposing stadiums.

Kahn was not the only Bavarian patient

First in a TV show in 2017, then in a book this year, Oliver Kahn has spoken a number of times about how his doggedness and mistakes drove him into a tunnel. He calls it "burnout" or "being exhausted". What is meant is the widespread disease depression. The "Vul-Kahn" - extinct. Sometimes he could hardly get up the stairs at home.

Today, Kahn wants to rid the disease of its stigma. Born in Karlsruhe, he wants to encourage those affected to seek professional help. He has been doing this with Florian Holsboer since the late 1990s. The renowned medical professor headed the Munich Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry until 2014.

Kahn was not the only Bavarian patient, reports depression researcher Holsboer in the podcast published today by his foundation, which is named after him, in which the journalist Ina Tenz interviews him and Kahn on the subject of depression and the destigmatization of mental illnesses. Holsboer remembers his patient Sebastian Deisler. "Basti Fantasti" was supposed to be the new Bayern star and only got depressed. The then Bayern manager Uli Hoeneß was ahead of his time, he begged him: "I don't care what they say and write outside, the boy should just get well again!"

Bayern, the highest-performing community in German football, were early on in recognizing and treating mental illnesses. Whether successful coach Ottmar Hitzfeld or recently defender Benjamin Pavard, the Munich team tried to support their footballers.

It helps, says Oliver Kahn, that he himself stands by his illness. The goals in added time in the 1999 Champions League final against Manchester United, the blunder in the World Cup final, the pressure over the years, the monkey noises, the bananas, his own doggedness - Kahn remembers: "I always have a symptom felt this burnout, it all took a lot of strength."

Kahn learned to classify things differently

Only with the help of Holsboer did he learn to deal with it better. Unlike others, he didn't say, "Pull yourself together," but listened and developed a plan with Kahn. Working on yourself, changing perspectives, these were the milestones that first made Kahn a more balanced goalkeeper and then a person.

This became obvious during the 2006 World Cup, when Kahn had to be on the bench but demonstratively supported his representative and rival Jens Lehmann in goal. That would have been unthinkable for the early Kahn.

Kahn learned to classify things differently. But he didn't want to give up football. "I wanted to change things, my person in my job, I didn't want to flee." Developing this resilience in a stressful professional environment with professional help is one of the recommendations for Kahn from his own case.

At that time, however, talking about the depression might have meant the end of a career. "For God's sake! That must not be made public under any circumstances." That was the attitude 15, 20 years ago. Not only that is different today. He also believes that the "degrading" monkey noises and bananas are no longer tolerated in stadiums.

His new role as a Bayern official is helping him change his personality, as is his experience as a player. "When we were eliminated by Villarreal in the Champions League, I stayed calm. That doesn't always go down well." Ultimately, however, people expected resilience from him in his new role.

In general, it took him a long time to distance himself from football. "Initially, at nine o'clock in the evening when the Champions League starts, I got really restless. I even went running at night to distract myself." That's different now. And not only that. In any case, in the podcast you meet a new, reflected Oliver Kahn beyond the cliché. It's less entertaining than the insane goalkeeper, but no less interesting.

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