Jens Lehmann Recalls Battles with Thierry Henry and Questions Arsenal Mentality

Steve BrennerSpecial to Bleacher ReportAugust 26, 2015


Picture the scene: Thierry Henry, Arsenal's star striker and one of the most feared forwards on the planet, is going through the motions at training.

Arsene Wenger's golden boy was doing his thing, no questions asked. Then, suddenly, the shouting started.

Jens Lehmann was barking orders at the Frenchman, much to the shock and horror—and amusement—of his new teammates. He'd only just joined the club, yet that didn't stop him.

"At one of the first training sessions I had at the club, I was consistently arguing with Thierry Henry because he wasn't running," the 45-year-old tells Bleacher Report.

"Everyone else in the squad was just watching. They were waiting to see how it would all unfold. By the end of the session, he was running, though. My advantage was that I was older, more mature, I was successful before coming to England, so I didn't care.

"Could he take it? He had to. If you are challenged for a reason, all of a sudden your teammates are going to look at you and think, 'Is he going to do what he's been challenged to do or not?'

Saint-Denis, FRANCE:  Arsenal's German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann (L) is conforted by Arsenal's French forward and team captain Thierry Henry after the referee gave him a red card during the UEFA Champion's League final football match Barcelona vs. Arsenal,

"So you have to do it so you won't lose the support and standing in the team. He probably thought I was mad. But in the end, he ran. I was only asking him to run more and defend."

Patrick Vieira once said it was a daily occurrence to see Lehmann ripping into members of the Arsenal squad.

Considering it was a group that would write itself into Premier League folklore by amazingly going unbeaten during the 2003-04 season, earning "The Invincibles" tag, perhaps the verbal beatdowns weren't so bad after all.

As Lehmann takes a break to sit down with Bleacher Report during a whistle-stop tour of North America and South America to promote the new Bundesliga season, there's evidently a brilliant method in his undoubted madness.

Think about how many times Wenger's recent squads have been accused of lacking the type of character and winning mentality to finally end their 11-year title drought.

And then wonder just what kind of galvanizing effect someone like Lehmann has on a squad. It's a priceless commodity. One Wenger has arguably never replaced.

"I just wanted to win," continues the German.

ALASTAIR GRANT/Associated Press

"I probably had one of the biggest winning mentalities at the club. That's why I had arguments with players. It didn't affect our relationshipsI get on very well with them all, because once they realized there was an on-pitch Jens and an off-pitch Jens, we were fine.

"I was a different person, but most are. Unfortunately, other players don't talk and express it too much; maybe they are shy about expressing their deep desire to win. Of course, Arsenal need that type of mentality now.

"The current squad haven't shown it so far."

The arrival of Petr Cech has given Wenger the type of goalkeeping quality which arrived in north London back in 2003 when Lehmann, then an established international who would win 61 caps, signed from Dortmund.

An inauspicious start in the opening-day defeat to West Ham ensured an early blot on the Czech's copybook. It was very unlike Cech.

Lehmann was surprised to see him struggle.

"Nerves affect everyone, but I am not sure they should have affected him like that," he says. "He has enough experience and is old enough to be able to deal with it. Perhaps he was still thinking about Chelsea.

"I know what it's like to go from one club to another. Expectations can be different, Chelsea was the love of his life, and all of a sudden you're playing for a team you've been fighting against. It takes time to adapt and get over the process, the fact Chelsea disappointed him.

"It showed him the cruelty of football: A younger guy comes in, and he's out. (Thibaut) Courtois is good, but is he that good when you factor in the experience? I find it all a bit strange. Age makes a big difference for keepers."

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Petr Cech of Arsenal thanks the support after the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

No manager has been in charge of a Premier League club longer than Wenger. Yet with just two FA Cups to show for the last 10 years, it's hard to think of another side that would have been so reluctant to wield the axe.

"Wenger is the club. When I see him I say to him, 'You have to be challenged from within the club.' But he just laughs at me," says Lehmann.

"I am not sure whether he liked seeing me arguing with the players, but he wasn't sure about whether or not it should be stopped. For the sake of the success of the team, it was a fine line for him, not to interfere.

"He obviously saw it and knew that it was giving him some kind of success."

DFL Deutsche Fussball Liga

After we met, the former German international hopped onto a plane headed to Mexico City before returning to Rio, the scene of his countrymen's brilliant World Cup triumph last summer.

A new TV deal in the U.S. with the Fox network will see the Bundesliga's popularity soar this season. Bayern Munich, who have an office in Manhattan and will soon have a presence in Shanghai, are the main attraction and the team to beat.

The opening-day, 5-0 thumping of Hamburg said as much. The uncertainty of manager Pep Guardiola's future, however, will be the fascinating subplot of this campaign.

"He hasn't come out and said he definitely wants to stay. Perhaps there's a feeling that he wants to move on. Because he hasn't won a double or treble, there are question marks. Players will look at that, especially if you're not picked by him," says Lehmann.

"Can Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery perform? Jurgen Klopp, (who was) at my former club, Dortmund, will be missed because of the way he challenged Bayern. His personality will be missed, too. "

The same can be said of Jens Lehmann. Football needs more characters like him.

Steve Brenner is a freelance journalist based in New York. All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise stated.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.