To become a legend, Lahm didn’t have to change. He never changed his principles to align them with the public demand. When you ask him today about characters, he will have the same smile in his face and the same reply as many years ago: “Football has changed.” But today more people will believe him.
Such a reply can be interpreted as if he didn’t really give a proper answer or as a hint to a more complex understanding, which he wouldn’t openly share out of respect.
Lahm won a World Cup, the Champions League, eight league titles and six cups, only mentioning the most important trophies of his career. The 33-year-old is the face of a golden generation at FC Bayern and he established a way of leadership that is a stark contrast to the likes of Oliver Kahn or Stefan Effenberg.
The perfect son-in-law
If one would ask Bayern fans between 15 to 30 years old for their favorite Bayern player, Bastian Schweinsteiger will probably be the number one answer. Nobody would forget about Lahm, but Schweinsteiger’s personality makes him easier to relate to for fans.
The former co-captain had a career with many ups and downs, providing many tough moments to relate to.
Lahm on the other hand has always been a constant. Of course, he did have his lows, but he was always an automatic starter and a top performer. The number of errors was low and the number of bad games even lower.
The biggest difference between Schweinsteiger and his captain was probably the collected and unemotional style of Lahm. Everything is calculated and planned, nothing happens without reason, revealing only little chance to be criticized upon by the public.
In the media he was very often the perfect son-in-law, saying the right thing, never producing any unwanted headlines. Instead he – and his Twitter account – were a fountain of statements without deeper meaning.
Systematic and clinical
But the Munich native also had another side as well, just ask Uli Hoeneß and Michael Ballack. If something doesn’t fit into Lahm’s plans, he can be systematic and clinical.
It’s remarkable that his legendary interview for the German newspaper SZ, in which he criticized the missing philosophy at FC Bayern, marked the beginning of an era that he had a formative influence on.
It’s even more impressive, that a player developed such a clear vision. Lahm identified and analyzed Bayern’s problems, as if he has been on the board for ages, being only 27 years old.
He never shied away from responsibility. His critique was always well reflected and factual. If there was a reason to criticize himself, he did that as well.
Every statement had a deeper meaning. Every interview gave away that initially meets the eye. It’s all part of the system and nothing is left to chance. His biggest critics do criticize him for doing exactly that.
Football need people like Thomas Müller. Outgoing, emotional players, saying what’s on their mind. But Lahm stayed true to his values, didn’t change and followed his plan. With determination.
If one listens closely, his interviews reveal Philipp Lahm’s uniqueness and his special talent for giving the other person the feeling of hearing exactly what they want to hear. The defender is a master of the indirect language and he knows very well, how to use his words.
Because he is a character. Unlike the common definition in Germany, but a modern variation of the term. He doesn’t need to be loud and aggressive. Lahm controls everything around him with intelligence, charisma and psychology.
During his career he has shown that he doesn’t have to be the dominant leader in the classical sense to have influence. He constantly made the right decisions and that made him a perfect leader.
The 33-year-old will be missed as a leader. His implementation of flat hierarchies will make it easier to find a successor for the role of the captain, but his qualities on and off the pitch will leave a big hole to manage for the club.
It’s almost impossible to find another link between the team, coach and board with such a vast influence. And Lahm did all that without getting unpopular.
The dominator from the Isar
It’s equally impossible to find another right full-back who is able to dominate the game like Lahm did. His way of interpreting football is like his interviews. Every movement, every pass, every order and every action was part of a bigger plan.
Lahm doesn’t leave anything to chance. For many years he made up the best wing pairing together with Arjen Robben in the club history. Ribery and Alaba were more aesthetically pleasing, but their efficiency and intelligence is on another level.
People often claim that everyone knows what Arjen Robben will do, but that it’s still impossible to defend. One reason for that was Philipp Lahm. His runs and his unique playing intelligence opened many spaces for the Dutchman. Robben did have his best years in Munich, thanks to the Bayern captain.
Lahm has never been spectacular. This kept him under the radar for long spells of his career and especially when individual awards were handed out. But he has always been the best player on his position.
Pep Guardiola didn’t just call him the most intelligent player he ever coached, but lauded also another quality. Calling him the only full-back capable of dominating a game from that position.
Lahm mastered this task with his extreme diagonal focus in his game. Possession, build-up, opening tight situations, counter-pressings, opening spaces, overloading… at the end of his career the defender combined many roles into one.
It often came down to small movements which changed the structure of the opponent to Bayern’s advantage within seconds. Just like his personal trademark move, when he feinted a dribbling into the middle, to use a simple turn to have the unoccupied wing for himself.
During his development he never lost his most important factor of his game, the balance. There are many full-backs with more offensive output than Lahm, but no one was more complete.
His lacking goal scoring abilities he compensated with intellect. His way of playing football was similar to his way of leadership. Lahm never tried to force anything on his own. Instead he always tried to find more intelligent solutions collectively.
His tacklings and defensive positioning were as unique as his football intelligence in possession. Just like his ability to think two, three moves ahead offensively, he did the same defensively.
And if he did have to sprint after his man he always had his second signature move, the Lahm tackle. For modern coaches tacklings are a sign for bad defending in the prior situation, but with Lahm they were an art form.
Lahm’s tacklings weren’t only unique, because he rarely lost one, but because he was often able to recover the ball in a way that a new situation was created for his own team.
His interviews were predictable, his performances on the pitch were the opposite. A factor that brought many titles to Munich.
You will be missed, Philipp
The former German international is still able to help his team, but he decided to hang up his boots on the highest level. That also sets him apart from Bastian Schweinsteiger. He wants to be the one to say when his career is over.
A decision that underlines his understanding for the bigger picture. It’s not only about today. The 33-year-old learnt his lessons from the past and plans for the future, to make the right decision today. That’s what unites Lahm as a person with Lahm as a football player.
More than a few people claimed that Schweinsteiger was the true captain of the team that reached its height with the triple in 2013. The truth is, both had their fair share, but Philipp Lahm was the right choice for the role of the team captain.
Lahm doesn’t leave anything to chance and thus he will soon give his first interview as ex-player. He will smile and say something predictable.
Some people will roll with their eyes, many Bayern fans will have a smile upon their faces. With one happy eye, because they see one of the three best players in the history of the club, and one sad eye, because they miss him.
The Philipp Lahm who left his footprint in the most successful era of the club and who was the face of a golden generation. Who was so easy to overlook and whose importance will probably only be emotionally understandable, when he really won’t be there anymore.
Thank you for everything you did for the club and us fans over all these years. We will miss you, Philipp. But hopefully not for very long.