As the sun shone over Germany while memoirs and poems were being written about their long-coveted World Cup title, Philipp Lahm decided to call curtains on an illustrious career. In a surprising turn of events, the German Captain retired from international football on a high after lifting the most prestigious trophy in the World of Football. While it was an unforeseen occuring, there were the murmers back in February when Lahm had hinted on this but the past Friday, all these doubts came to frutition as he officially confirmed it.
'It is the right time for me to go,' said Lahm. After 113 caps and a World Cup trimuph, Lahm departs as one of the greatest players ever to have played for Germany. His departure leaves a huge void in the Die Mannschaft, one that shall not be filled easily.
Starting in the U-19 team in 1999, the diminutive 15-year old promised a great career ahead. His first bit of glory was at the 2002 U-19 Euro Championships where Germany won the Silver medal. His impressive performances prompted Rudi Voller, the then senior team coach to hand him a senior debut in 2004 just months before the European Championships.
Early days in the National Team
While his national career was starting to develop, he was prospering in the League with excellent performances for Vfb Stuttgart, where he was on loan from Bayern Munich. His excellent form was rewarded as he came 2nd in the poll for German Footballer of the Year and was selected for Euro 2004.
In what was the brightest achievement of Lahm’s career till then, the team failed to deliver and got eliminated in the group stages. However, in a dismal tournament, the emergence of Lahm as a future prospect was considered the only positive. After a year of relative inactivity due to a major injury, his re-emergence in the 2006 World Cup was received with much aplomb. He scored the first goal of the World Cup and was part of the refreshing, attacking brand of football that Germany demonstrated.
While Germany exited in the semifinals, much to the dismay of the home fans, Lahm played every single minute of the tournament and was selected to the all-star team, slowly staking his claim to be one of the best full-backs in the world. The expectations going into the tournament were very high, seeing as they were the hosts. But then, the young team lost in the semifinals just as they would four years later at the 2010 World Cup.
Steady rise up the ladder
His biggest asset was his mental strength and intelligence on the field, a quality described by Pep Guardiola as the best he had ever seen. His versatility in defense to be able to play left-back as well as right-back has seen his position tweaked a lot. In Euro 2008, the tournament where Spain’s domination begun, lack of communication between Lahm and then goalkeeper Jens Lehmann resulted in Spain scoring the winner.
Lahm’s shortcomings on the field were next to none, with the occasional arrogance being touted as the one quality that could effect his downfall. When Joachim Loew made him the captain for the 2010 World Cup, there were a lot of critical opinions as to whether he would control this but his performances certainly proved them wrong.
Germany lost in the semifinals once again but then, one could see a marked difference in their younger players such as Muller and Mesut Ozil who took centerstage and performed admirably well. Lahm played every single minute of the tournament, and was selected in the All Star team and walking out with plaudits, once again.
The aftermath of the 2010 World Cup
Germany’s major problem in Euro 2012 was a lack of bench strength. Mario Balotelli’s two moments of brilliance proved to be Germany’s undoing as they exited in the semifinals, once again denying Lahm a major trophy.
While that tournament proved to be another blight, the following season would be one of the proudest moments of his career. Captaining a strong Bayern Munich team, Lahm lifted the Champions League trophy to complete a European treble and was nominated for the Ballon d’or.
But the year that followed was a turnaround. It was a moment that changed everything for ‘The Magic Dwarf’. The arrival of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich saw Lahm being moved to center midfield, a role which he adapted to so effortlessly. Lahm’s excellent ball-retention capabilities were seen as the motive behind this move and a seamless transition suggested that it was a wonderful decision.
Transformation into a midfielder and the 2014 World Cup
Suddenly, Lahm was amongst the most complete midfielders in the world. Such a smooth transition and his footballing acumen earned him numerous plaudits, one of which was from Barcelona midfield stalwart Xavi, who said “Lahm is a top player with a lot of personality and you can play him at the back, in the middle and he is good going forward. He is clearly not stopping in his pursuit to simply get better and better.”
Come the 2014 World Cup, the expectations were high. A triumph would have seen him join a list of luminaries such as Fritz Walter, Franz Beckenbauer (an all time great) and Lothar Matthaus as the World Cup winning captains. True to his pre-World Cup expectations, he achieved the dream by winning the greatest trophy in football after a moment of magic from Mario Gotze in the final.
Throughout the tournament, Die Mannschaft had set high standards. While Lahm was nominated for the best player award, he was often overshadowed throughout the tournament. With Muller high on the scoring charts, Klose making the record books and Toni Kroos having a good, much of the limelight was thrust on them. But then, at the end of the day, all the world bowed in admiration as one of the greatest players of this generation lifted the World Cup.
A legacy built on a foundation of hard work and dedication
The past few years have been so good to Lahm that his meteroric rise to the top was unforeseen. The notion of him being one of the world’s best has been universally accepted only for the past two years, which he deserved far before. Lahm, unlike many of his teammates shows a profound level of consistency which is highly indicative of a great player.
His performances, be it in midfield or defense have always been top-notch with many of the world’s top players giving in to his tough play on the field. While his defensive prowess is amongst the best at present, his attacking stability and support up front was often understated. Lahm brought with himself a level of football that was well above the normal standards.
There were few players over the past two decades who brought in an artistic touch to the game. Andres Iniesta, Michael Laudrup and Zinedine Zidane stand high up the ladder on that list, while Lahm just about matches them, with his calm and stability. No wonder even a legendary right back like Carlos Alberto Torres had this to say about him, “Sometimes Lahm is just breathtaking. He doesn’t make any mistakes. Is he a machine? No. Weber, Schulz, Höttges, in my day, they were machines. Philipp Lahm is an artist.”
Matching up to Beckenbauer and Matthaus
The beauty of Lahm’s position at the top is his relative or rather absolute lack of detractors. Within the German national team as well as his club, Lahm holds a position that is very high and the amount of respect he garners is worth admiring. However, he has never taken his place for granted, which speaks volumes for his character.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo share the spotlight nine times out of ten, yet here we are, lost and spellbound by the genius of Philipp Lahm. He chose a glossy time to retire, descending into the sunshine just as his country was celebrating his accomplishments. For Germany will sail after Lahm, but we may never see such a player emerge again.
Speaking of Beckenbauer and Mathaus was the order of the day once, but Lahm has made sure that his is now an example almost impossible to emulate.