Jens Lehmann is best known these days as a football pundit on German television, but Tim Wiese can think of three other places for the former international keeper. ”He belongs on The Muppet Show, on the couch or in a mental institution,” the Bremen goalkeeper insists.
Wiese and Lehmann have sneered at each other for years, but when the former Schalke, Dortmund, Arsenal and Stuttgart keeper criticized Wiese’s positional sense in the 2-2 Champions League draw against Tottenham this week, the gloves really came off. ”He needs help,” Wiese said.
So what of Wiese’s accusations? Here’s the evidence for the prosecution:
* Muppet Show Moment: White Hart Lane, 25 April, 2004: With the ball out of play, Lehmann thought the referee’s back was turned and punched Tottenham’s Robbie Keane in the chest. Penalty. Arsenal are denied a win against their most bitter rivals.*
* Psychologist’s Couch Moment: Mercedes-Benz Arena, 9 December 2009: Lehmann pulled down his shorts to urinate behind his goal during a Champions League match for Stuttgart. ”I thought he handled it very expertly,” says a deadpan Horst Heldt, Stuttgart Director of Sport.
* Mental Institution Moment: Stadion am Bruchweg, 12 December 2009: Stuttgart are seconds away from a first win in nine games, but Lehmann gives away a late penalty, and picks up a red card, by stamping on Mainz forward Aristide Bance’s foot. Lehmann then snatches the spectacles of a hapless Mainz supporter, but delights a Mainz cabbie by hailing a taxi to Frankfurt Airport and flying home.
Lehmann’s long list of other misdemeanours includes spats with teammates, going AWOL on the pitch and being spotted at Beer Festivals on the eve of big matches.
But Wiese is far from an unbiased character witness. For years, Wiese felt that his international career was being unfairly thwarted by Lehmann. Clearly the bitterness runs deep. ”He was the only goalkeeper that never shook my hand before a match,” says Wiese.
With his bright pink jerseys, glittering earrings and perfectly styled hair, Wiese draws sniggers from sections of the German sports press. Rival fans have been known to rub their hands in anticipation when they see his name on the Bremen team sheet.
He quips that while other German keepers like Rene Adler and Manuel Neuer attract frenzied transfer speculation, no one ever seems interested in signing Wiese.
And former teammates have been rushing to Lehmann’s defense.
”I don’t care what anyone says,” says former Stuttgart and Arsenal teammate Alex Hleb. ”I have never met a player as professional as Jens.”
The details of Hleb’s description are, perhaps, revealing. Non-German speakers are invited to look online for a translation.
”I once I asked Jens why he behaves so strangely on the pitch. He said you must fight be at the top level, you have to be an Arschloch.”