One of the biggest stories in the news over the past few weeks has been that Prince Philip deciding to retire from his position at the ripe old age of 96. The good news, valued reader, is that this article has absolutely nothing to do with that story at all! While the mainstream media are caught up in this eccentric old man retiring from a position in which nobody really cares about, the football media have a bigger farewell Philipp to discuss. The retirement of football legend Philipp Lahm. This is actually quite a difficult article to write, purely due to the fact that there are not enough superlatives in the world to do justice to the living legend. A versatile player, a passionate leader, and a man who has been able to truly fulfil his childhood dreams. With his impending retirement coming up in little over a week, it felt right to pay homage to one of the greatest to play the game.
This is actually quite a difficult article to write, purely due to the fact that there are not enough superlatives in the world to do justice to the living legend. A versatile player, a passionate leader, and a man who has been able to truly fulfil his childhood dreams. With his impending retirement coming up in little over a week, it felt right to pay homage to one of the greatest to play the game.
Playing for Bayern Munich is a huge achievement for any player, and playing pretty much the entirety of one’s career for Bayern Munich is incredible, but for Philipp Lahm, it goes beyond that. Philipp Lahm is a big Bayern Munich fan. Every football loving child dreams of growing up to become a player for their team. I’m sure that young Philipp Lahm would have been thrilled to have grown up and played even a minute off the bench for the Bavarian Giants. Such was his adoration for the team that he was a ball boy at the old Olympic Stadium in Munich, just to get a chance to see his team play.
That little boy grew up not just to earn a contract or to play a couple of minutes here or there, he grew up to epitomise the club. He made his first appearance for the club just two days after his 19th birthday, as a substitute in the Champions League. A couple of years later, after two years on loan at Stuttgart, he was a regular member of the Munich squad, winning the league that season. Fast forward to May 2017 and Lahm has amassed an incredible amount of winners medals, including eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokal titles, three DFL Supercups, a UEFA Super Cup, and a UEFA Champions League. And this is just his club accolades.
Lifting these titles as a valuable squad member would have filled the fullback with immense pride, but in 2011, he took another step towards the title of an all time great. Then coach Louis Van Gaal assigned Philipp Lahm the captaincy after the departure of former captain Mark Van Bommel to AC Milan. The young Bayern Munich fan had worked hard, fought through injuries and positional rivals and displayed the kind of consistent quality which saw him become an automatic starter under an array of different managers. All this hard work paid off, and the young Bayern Munich ball boy had grown up to be the club captain, lifting trophy after trophy for years on end.
While Lahm is a born winner, and will obviously cherish his Bundesliga titles, these are demanded by the fans. Such is the dominance of the FC Hollywood – a nickname given to FC Bayern due to their seemingly bottomless pit of money to spend on stars – that the league and German cups are expected, if they don’t win the title, the fans are angry. Over the past decade, Bayern have done well to win so many titles, but the title which must stick out most to Lahm would be his UEFA Champions League victory.
To win a Champions League is huge for a player, and many of the world’s best players don’t actually have that winners medal in their collection. For a long while, it would appear that this particular trophy would allude Lahm and his Bayern team-mates. Bayern Munich won the Champions League on penalties in 2001, a season before Lahm made his first appearance. The club then went nine years before the Bavarians returned to the biggest club competition in Europe, a final against Jose Mourinho’s Internazionale. Bayern Munich played well, but were no match for the Italians as Diego Milito scored a brace to ensure that it would be at least a decade since the Germans last won the coveted prize.
They say it’s the hope that kills you, and this couldn’t be truer of Lahm’s next Champions League final. While they were never really in the 2010 final, they were very much in control in the final against Chelsea in 2012. The stage was set, Bayern were playing the neutral final in their home stadium by chance, and they had knocked out teams such as Napoli, Marseille and Real Madrid on the road to the final, scoring 25 goals and conceding only 10.
It was a tight game, a cagey affair, but a game in which Bayern held control for most of it. With 83 minutes on the clock, Toni Kroos pinged a cross to the back post for Thomas Muller to head in, in slightly unconventional fashion. Having held control for the majority of the match, the job seemed simple. Keep a lacklustre Chelsea side at bay for little under ten minutes, and that famed trophy would be theirs. This was a job which Bayern failed. A Didier Drogba header from a corner equalised for the London club, taking the game into extra time.
The game went to penalties, with Lahm scoring the first kick of the shootout. Maybe this was it, after the setback of extra time, maybe Lahm had put his side on the right tracks again. This was further emphasised when Juan Mata saw his shot saved by Manuel Neuer. This was as close as Bayern were to winning the trophy that night, however, as Chelsea scored all their remaining penalties, Croatian forward Ivica Olic, who was playing his last game for Bayern, saw his shot saved by Petr Cech. Fan favourite Bastian Schweinsteiger also watched in horror as his shot was saved, being tipped agonisingly close as it landed against the post. While Olic missed his last kick for his club, Didier Drogba scored on his last kick for the club, winning Chelsea their first Champions League trophy, and leaving Bayern Munich and Philipp Lahm with two losses from their last two Champions League finals.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Well try Philipp Lahm did, and eventually, on a warm Saturday evening at Wembley, he finally got his hands on what is arguably the hardest trophy to win in club football. Playing league rivals Borussia Dortmund in the final may have been the clincher for Bayern, who knew that they had the psychological edge over Jurgen Klopp’s men, having reclaimed the league title from them for the first time in two years, and knowing that they had signed Dortmund’s star player Mario Gotze in a deal which would go through in the summer.
Dortmund were the better team in the first half, yet Bayern stayed competitive and with two minutes to go, Dutch winger Arjen Robben took advantage of some calamitous Dortmund defending to snatch the winner. Lahm lifted the trophy and the expression on his face was nothing short of sheer elation. After years of Champions League heartache, he finally had the one that got away. Lahm lifting the Champions League trophy capped off a historic treble winning season for the Bavaria giants, another dream to check off for young Philipp Lahm.
There are many greats of world football who have had a trophy-laden career but never won anything internationally. Lionel Messi’s Argentina medal collection boasts an Olympic medal, but no World Cup or Copa America, neither Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs nor Zlatan Ibrahimovic have a World Cup or European Championship to their name. International medals are not the hallmark of a great player, although it certainly helps.
After a number of disappointing years, Germany’s FA reinvented the dynamic of German football, putting a greater emphasis on the younger generation of up and coming talents. This took a few years to formulate and develop, but it certainly paid off to a devastating effect.
It was pertinent that Germany’s golden generation started to come together at World Cup 2006, a tournament hosted in Germany. Who else but fullback Philipp Lahm could open the scoring to the tournament. Six minutes in and the player, starting at left back, was dribbling down the wing, and cut back to the edge of the 18-yard box and fired the ball into the net on his right foot. It was a magnificent strike to set a magnificent tournament into motion. The tournament was cut short by Italy in the semi-finals, with Fabio Grosso scoring the latest ever World Cup goal on 119 minutes to send the Germans into despair. With the Germans pushing for an equaliser, Alessandro Del Pierro broke Fabio Grosso’s record, scoring on 121 minutes to send the Germans out of the World Cup. The Germans had low expectations entering the tournament, therefore to reach extra time in the semi-final was a promising start to a strong decade of German football.
Euro 2008 saw the Germans go one step further, reaching the final against Spain. This was not a happy final for Lahm, who saw a slight lapse in concentration between himself and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, lead to Fernando Torres nick a goal which proved to be the winner.
This was the start of a long period of Spanish dominance, without which may have seen the Germans win a lot more than they did. After beating the Germans in the final, the two teams met again in the semi-finals in the 2010 South African World Cup. A Carlos Puyol header in the second half sent the Germans home early again, leaving a bright young German team full of self-doubt. Yet again, they had been arguably the best or at least one of the best teams at the tournament, and yet they couldn’t cross the finishing line.
Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, another chance for Die Mannschaft to assert some dominance in world football. While a World Cup is the star attraction, a European Championship trophy certainly wouldn’t be dismissed. Germany played admirably once again, but still they couldn’t win the trophy, Italy, and in particular, Mario Balotelli, sunk Germany’s hope in the semis. It was starting to look like Germany’s golden generation, now captained by Philipp Lahm, were destined to go down as a group of bottlers and underachievers.
Maybe it was years of being branded as favourites which did it for the Germans. They went to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as one of the chasing pack, rather than an out and out favourite, and this fared them well. Germany lined up with a solid back four, averting from the increasing trend of playing full backs who were essentially second wingers. Lahm was often deployed as a holding midfielder in Brazil, and this moved proved wise. This wasn’t unfamiliar territory for Lahm, who had been played there on occasion by Bayern manager Pep Guardiola. Upon playing Lahm in midfield, Pep claimed that Lahm was one of the smartest players he had ever seen play. High praise indeed!
The tournament went well if a little underwhelming. An emphatic win against Portugal put Germany in the driving seat. A shock draw against Ghana followed by an underwhelming win against the USA saw them progress to the second round, but the attention of the world was certainly on other teams, even more so after it took the full 120 minutes to beat Algeria in the second round. After years of fast, attacking, exciting football from Germany, this was a different style, encapsulated by Philipp Lahm in the middle of the park, instead of bombing down the wing from fullback.
A win against France in the quarter-finals saw people take notice, however. This was a rampant France team, and they were silenced by Germany. Their tournament thus far was okay, they were ticking the boxes, but they certainly weren’t as terrifying a prospect as they had been in the past. That was until July 8th, in Belo Horizonte, against hosts Brazil. 7-1. Germany won 7-1. In a World Cup semi-final. Against Brazil. Against hosts, Brazil. It would have been massive if they’d hit Ghana for seven in the groups, but to do this to the Samba Boys in the semis, this was madness.
The build up games hadn’t been electric, but had been professional for Germany, and the semi-final was a demolition job. The opponents in the final were Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Lahm had returned to his more favoured right back position, and he thrived. Playing against attacking influences like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Enzo Perez and Lionel Messi may have been a little daunting for Lahm, but he is and was one of the best fullbacks to play the game. This wasn’t a reason to be scared, after years of international heartache and what could have been moments, this was his chance for redemption. He kept a clean sheet, an incredible feat against one of the best teams in the world, for 120 minutes, in a World Cup final. He did his job, and at the other end of the pitch, with the clock ticking down, Mario Gotze did his job.
The final whistle blew. Germany had won their first World Cup since 1990 (also against Argentina), and Germany’s first World Cup as a united country. More pertinently to this article, this was Philipp Lahm’s first World Cup win, and his last. He lifted the World Cup triumphantly above his head, basked in the glory of what he had done, and then, five days later, retired from international football. Why? Why not go for it again in Russia four years later, or at least go for a European Championship in France two years later. He was a winner. He had done what every little boy dreams of as a child growing up and lifted the World Cup, and only a select few men have captained their country to a World Cup final win.
But that is classic Philipp Lahm. He is contented. He doesn’t need to push himself, he doesn’t need to become desperate. He won the highest accolade that a footballer can do, and instead of wishing to do it again, he stepped aside. He did this to give younger players a chance. He had lived his dream, and he wanted to give that opportunity to someone else.
The player simply oozes class. He has been at the top of his game for over 12 years, played hundreds of games, winning league titles, a Champions League and a World Cup. And in May this year, he is retiring at the startlingly young age of just 33. This is an average age to retire for lower league players, but for a seasoned pro like Lahm, he has years left in him.
Or does he? For a guy that has won it all, maybe he doesn’t want to play on. Maybe he doesn’t want to risk an injury that would blight the rest of his life. Maybe he wants to give a young player a chance. He certainly benefited from France fullback Willy Sagnol retiring when Lahm was a young player at the Allianz Arena.
When you have won it all, played with the best, against the best and managed by the best, perhaps he is just happy. It is understandable that, while he is still fit, he doesn’t want to grow old and fall down the pecking order, like Totti has at Roma, or Raul did at Real Madrid. Maybe he cannot be bothered with being forced out and playing for clubs beneath a player of his stature, like Beckham moving to LA or Xavi going to Qatar.
Maybe Philipp Lahm is happy to bow out at the top of the game. He was worked incredibly hard to achieve legendary status, one of the greatest fullbacks to ever play the game. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks to that little ball boy that he once was, who could only dream of a fraction of the career that he grew up to achieve, and maybe he is happy knowing that he has lived the dream. Whatever his motivations for retirement are, they are met with sadness, but with gracious acceptance from an audience who have been blessed to watch a player of Lahm’s quality compete for club and country over the years. To conclude, in his native German, Abschied, Philipp.