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'I was lucky to share my time with Lehmann' - Almunia calm over row revelations

17:30 GMT 19/12/2017
Manuel Almunia Jens Lehmann Arsenal
The German goalkeeper lifted the lid on the pair's goalkeeping rivalry in his autobiography but there are no hard feelings on the part of Almunia

Manuel Almunia says there is no hard feelings with Jens Lehmann following the German’s revelations about their Arsenal goalkeeping rivalry in his autobiography.

Lehmann lifted the lid on the pair’s battle for the starting shirt which culminated in a foul-mouthed showdown on the training pitch following a challenge on Lehmann by Niklas Bendtner.

Almunia, Lehmann conceded, was a “rather nice bloke” in private but their competition for a place in Arsene Wenger’s team led to numerous confrontations behind the scenes.

Despite Lehmann’s recent disclosures, Almunia admits that his one-time rival is - in fact - his goalkeeping idol and was even unaware that a book had been written about their struggles.

“When time goes by, you come back and you remember these things very nicely,” the Spaniard told Goal.

“I have to say despite all the problems we had on the training ground or challenging for the No.1 shirt at Arsenal, I learned so much from him - how to behave on the pitch, how to treat your players, how to command the players, how to look strong on the pitch.

“I learned a lot from Jens. He is one of the keepers I liked most in my life. I was very lucky to share my time with him.”

Almunia replaced Lehmann following his red card in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona and recalled that night in Paris in excruciating detail.

“I remember it well,” he said. “It’s incredible how time goes and it’s 11 years now. It’s crazy.

“I remember the sending off from Jens and standing up from the bench. I knew it was my turn.

“Arsene Wenger looked at me and said it’s your turn. Everything happened very quickly.

“After the match, it’s sad because normally you only have one chance to win this trophy. But we were playing 10 men for a very long time.

“Barca was comfortable on the pitch, moving the ball quick and we just defended. That’s all.”

He hailed Lehmann for his performances in the competition to that point and believes that the ex-Germany international deserved to end up with a winner’s medal.

“He was very, very upset,” said Almunia. “Very sad. He just looked down and said: ‘Good luck’ and went to the dressing room.

“I know it was very hard. Jens was one of our very best players in the games before against Juventus, Madrid, Villarreal.

“He had a fantastic Champions League and deserved to play that final and to lift the trophy.”

Almunia is now working in Abu Dhabi as goalkeeping coach at UAE Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira and is enjoying life away from the spotlight in Europe.

“[Being a] goalkeeping coach is something that I really like,” he said. “I’ve been doing this two years now, and I’m very pleased with what I do.

“At the moment, I’m very happy here. Life is easy, life is quiet for me. I’m not a person that needs big things or big crowds around me. Here I have the tranquillity to work as I want.

“I feel respected. I feel the love from the local people from the club. It’s what I need.”

Following a two-season spell with Watford, Almunia retired in 2014 after doctors discovered an issue with his heart. He admits to being ready to call it a day at that stage but it didn’t take long for the football urge to strike him again.

“I had a little problem with my heart so I had to stop suddenly,” he said. “But I was not unhappy to stop playing because at 37 I was OK I was ready to stop. It’s OK now. It’s a new challenge for me; goalkeeping coach. I like what I do.

“After football I said myself, ‘Manu no more football, no coaching, nothing’. No more football forever.

“After a while – it’s something you’ve been doing for 20 years every single year doing football - the body, the brain demands some football. I was ready to start again in a new challenge like this.

“After 6 months, I had a phone call from [Gianluca Nani] the former sports director from Watford who came to Al Jazira to work.

“He called me and asked me if I fancied working with the goalkeepers of Al Jazira. That’s how it was.

“I had no doubts to come. I need to do something after a while without any activity, any football. It was a good chance for me.”

Almunia has no plans to return to the UK any time soon but remains an Arsenal watcher. He says the recent appointments of Sven Minlistat and Raul Sanllehi will go a long way towards improving fortunes at Emirates.

“When you have the results that you don’t expect you need to do changes the changes come on the areas you think you are weak,” he said.

“It’s normal that in a club if something is weak you change some parts of these sections of the club. When they find the right way, they will keep everybody on board. And they will continue.

“If something’s not working they need changes.”

Almunia also hailed his former boss Wenger for his longevity and believes the Frenchman is deserving of one more big title before leaving the club.  

“I’m surprised that someone stays in change for such a long time, as I was surprised that Ferguson was as long on the bench, because football is so difficult,” he said.

“It’s so hard to stay such a long time in charge of a big club. It’s difficult to be a player in a big club and stay many years on it, as a manager, it’s much more difficult. That’s why I’m impressed.

“Arsene is a great coach and he deserved one of these years to lift a big trophy.”