Oliver Kahn at Spielmacher19 – Why the Bundesliga Faces Problems and a ‘Goalkeeper‘ Is No More

This year’s Spielmacher Conference saw one of Germany’s greatest ever players enter the stage: Oliver Kahn. He offered a bitter-sweet insight into modern football business.

When Oliver Kahn – three times winner of the World Goalkeeper of the Year – came onto the Spielmacher stage in Hamburg, the conference hall was all but full. Everyone attending the event focused on actual and new football visions wanted to hear from the Titan. Kahn had proven his worth after finishing his career eleven years ago, not only being convincing as a pundit for the ZDF, but also as a business man himself. He would go on to talk about that – but did give his view on the development of European and German club football, too. And his vision underlines: as a club you need the best possible business approach and money will talk even louder these days.

The talk: Oliver Kahn and Pit Gottschalk

On stage in the new Cruise Center in Hamburg, Kahn, who was and still is a hero for German football fans and those around the globe, was interviewed by Pit Gottschalk. Gottschalk himself, formerly Editor in Chief for Sports at the FUNKE Media Group and now Publisher of the popular newsletter Fever Pit’ch, was trying to educe some special insights from the goalkeeping icon. But Kahn appeared communicative and thoughtful anyway. When asked which mistakes he had made, since becoming a business man, he answered:

All of them.

Pit Gottschalk talking to Oliver Kahn, © Henrick Vahlendieck (for Spielmacher)

If you look at Kahn – who just turned 50 – now, he comes across even more complex than is his playing days. While he had (so nearly) won it all, Kahn says he was always going to stay competitive. Therefore, his principles are rather simple but a goal to aim at:

Being different and better.

And to be better, you have to keep moving, especially in a business context. That’s why Oliver Kahn even continued his education at Harvard, appeasing his own competitiveness.

He admitted to Pit Gottschalk that his name will always help him to realise projects. But he has admiration for Zinédine Zidane, who, after being one of the best players ever, had the courage to start from scratch again – because eventually your name counts for little in the long run.

Kahn also talked about his intentions to give something back to society afer being able to play at the top for two decades. So on one hand, he invented the Oliver Kahn Stiftung which ist there to empower young people without a perspective by the power of sports. To achieve that, the foundation is building a network of Safe-Hubs, where children and teenagers will be educated and prepared for the everyday life. Another one is going to be built in Berlin as there already are some in South Africa.


On the other hand, Kahn has started his own company GoalPlay, that also offers an app. GoalPlay is there to focus on the goalkeepers’ needs. Although Kahn, in reference to the company name, rather calls them goalplayers.

The keeper as nothing more than a gate keeper is anachronistic, that’s Kahn’s opinion. Thus the name of his company. The players in goal are far more integrated in training, tactics and gameplay these days. And Kahn’s company and their app should give those players a great option to further strengthen their abilities. Like this, the Titan’s prowess will be passed on to the next generations.

The former Bayern Munich keeper, who might join the club’s board sooner rather than later, also had advice for running the business part of a football club. For he thinks that it’s elementary that ex-players are integrated into the business structures since they can understand football and the emotional and sometimes even irrational aspects of the game far better than external personnel.

Kahn’s view on a more balanced European football ecosystem

As a viewer, I’d like a more balanced system,

said Kahn answering Pit Gottschalk once again. He referred to the growing imbalance of pretty rich clubs and those that struggle to compete. But Kahn wondered whether some kind of redistribution would be the right way. Maybe investors could bring back more of a balance. Because more teams that can become champions, like in the Premier League, would make the Bundesliga more attractive in the long term. Additionally, Kahn doesn’t believe that there’s less excitement amongst the fans at clubs like Man City or PSG. They show us how football does work on a global level, as the former goalkeeper said.

City have become a huge club – not least due to their billionaire investor.

Having stated that, Kahn believes that the 50+1 rule for the Bundesliga is only going to vanish step by step. And the clubs should be preparing for that now. Because if there will not be big investments in the near future, it will be really, really hard to keep the pace with the Premier League or La Liga. You might need to find another way and Kahn choose RB Leipzig as an example. Because at the club, the work has a clear identity, plus the financial backing from Red Bull; although that, in comparison to a billionaire investor, is a rather small financial power.

But it’s difficult to regulate these imbalances. Gottschalk brought up the salary caps, known from the US sports. Yet, as Kahn emphasised, such systems wouldn’t be helping, if only introduced in one or two leagues. If Germany had a salary cap, the top players would be leaving for the big spenders, mainly in the Premier League. That’s something we’re already seeing now. And of course, that might make people switch their attention.

You want to see the stars, Ronaldo, Messi Mbappé. That’s what’s fun,

commented Kahn. Thus, it doesn’t look good from a regulative point of view. The big ones will only get bigger. We’re on the verge of mega brands in football. Such a club, quoted as a fitting example by Kahn, is Juventus Turin. Already a very big club, they decided to change their logo in order to be even more recognisable and more reminiscent of a high fashion brand. Furthermore, they signed Ronaldo for a hundred million Euro last season – with the effect that people around the world are now wearing Cristiano on the back, but sporting a Juve shirt instead of Real’s. And super brand clubs know how to monetise their story, their popularity. Kahn mentions FC Barcelona’s famed ‘La Masia‘ academy, with children in the whole world being able to take part in youth camps to get a chance to play there, at Barcelona’s facilities, if even only once. And although ‘La Masia‘ isn’t even the official name, it is very much part of the international branding.

So, what we learned from Kahn, is a lot, but also the fact, that the Bundesliga, it seems, can only compete with the best leagues in the long term, if heavy investment is someday met with more excitement than refusal. Where will it lead us, though? We’ll probably see more entertainment, more super brands and another surge of incredible investment all over Europe. If you look at Kahn’s principles “Being different and being better“, the Bundesliga is certainly being different right now. And they’ve got a strong brand with their motto “Football As It’s Meant To Be“. Yet, being better becomes a lot more difficult if we face the inevitable truth that money is the foundation for the mega football brands that will be successful. That won’t be possible over night. But at some stage, success is going to come. Time to make the right decisions at clubs, from a business point of view. Sentiment seems to rather be a part of the brand image these days. Thank god we’ve got positive thinkers like Oliver Kahn still in the game.

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