50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #39 Philipp Lahm
- A leader of men.
Germany are one of the first nations to make use of the stats and data boom in football and implement it on the pitch. Die Mannschaft lifted the World Cup in 2014 and there was a lot of work involved behind the scenes.
The technological renaissance -- a la Vorsprung durch Technik -- first became popular through the famous clip of Borussia Dortmund players using the Footbonaut to improve their ability to react under pressure and release the ball quicker following injuries. But the German squad left no stone unturned in trying to make use of everything they had at their disposal at Brazil, and at the heart of it was a diminutive fullback and the skipper of the side: Philipp Lahm.
Jamie Carragher once famously said, in jest of course, "If you're a fullback, you're either a failed winger, or a failed centreback." Lahm, incidentally, started out as a defensive midfielder in the famed Bayern youth team of 2001 under then youth coach Roman Grill. But just how much of an impact can a youngster with a frame of some 5' 6" have to make it to the first team?
Shifted to the right first and then pushed further in the subsequent months, Lahm didn't complain and just got on with it. That has sort of summed up his entire career at right-back. He's was never one for showboating. He was never a player who'd make a marauding run on the right, leaving opposition fullbacks biting the dust. He was never a player who would dribble well. But boy was he wily and persistent.
The Germany squad maybe wasn't at its physical best ahead of the 2014 World Cup as they had fitness concerns. Bastian Schweinsteiger had missed a major chunk of the season and Sami Khedira had just returned from an injury. Add to that the absence of a natural left-back and the cruel injury to Marco Reus, and one could have been forgiven to think the Germans had a mountain to climb to match their target of reaching the final and winning the tournament that they had previously lifted in 1990. But amidst all the chaos, they had the calmness of Lahm on the pitch.
Like I said before, Germany had focussed a lot on the statistical aspect of the game; goals from freekicks needed minimal effort, so the team upped their training intensity in trying to find set-piece solutions in training. Going behind in games was a strict no-no because of the subsequent physical and mental exertion, and in the heat of Brazil, going down to 10 men was the last thing Joachim Low wanted. Luckily, they had a man in Lahm who showed his teammates how to do it.
When you're as short as Lahm, you have to make the best use of your abilities. Lahm's best traits were his ability to read a pass before it ever happened. Mistimed tackles are a part of the game, but because Lahm read it so well, he'd be on to you before you could take the desired touch and set yourself or look up to see who's out there to pass it to. Getting past him was tougher than what quite a lot of wingers presumed.
Lahm himself said that the most important quality in a player is the passion with which he plays. I laud the modesty of the man. But any young footballer who wants to be like him needs two things, the first is obviously the discipline and the second is persistence.
Like Benedikt Höwedes showed in the 2014 World Cup, Lahm started the 2006 World Cup as Germany's first choice left-back despite being a right-back. It was his ability to adapt and the discipline that made then manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his assistant Joachim Low believe that he was the right man for the task; and boy did he deliver. Lahm even scored in the tournament's opening game against Costa Rica, a goal when seen for the first time will make you think he was a modern-day inverted winger who liked cutting in and wielding his right foot!
Though Germany fell short in the end, Lahm was going to lead a talented squad of German footballers. Like the 2006 tournament, Germany fell to the eventual winners in the 2010 edition, Spain, in the semifinals. The 2014 edition was sort of a last hurrah for a squad that consisted of Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertesacker with Lahm leading the side.
Quite a few of the younger fans would have obviously watched the 2014 World Cup and if you ask them for what Germany will be remembered, they'd probably say the side's 7-1 hammering of Brazil and Mario Goetze's goal in extra time.
The rout of Brazil will be remembered quite a few years but amidst the eight goals that were scored on the night, Lahm had the best stats among the German defenders; four tackles, denying Brazil the chance to make something happen on the left, one interception and three clearances. Germany were cruising, but Lahm? Well, he did what he had to do; put in the shift.
The Germans have had quite a few players of Lahm's mould -- Berti Vogts in the past, and Joshua Kimmich right now -- but the fans will always speak of the former Bayern star and the World Cup winner to the fondest. Unsurprisingly, Lahm makes our list of the 50 Greatest World Cup Players.Published 06 May 2018, 14:16 IST