FC Bayern – Miasanrot Advent Calendar, Door 21: Philipp Lahm
Gerd Müller, Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthäus, Philipp Lahm – for me personally, these are the four greatest male footballers in German history. At least from the period of history that those of us from a younger generation have witnessed first hand or can review on video and in newspaper reporting.
I find it remarkable how rarely Lahm is actually mentioned among the greatest footballers ever. At this point I’ll spare a joke about his height, but I know exactly what you were thinking. Lahm was often considered by many to be bland, boring and way too soft-spoken. To this day, I don’t understand why this is so – apart, that is, from his indeed bland, boring and soft-spoken Twitter account.
His legendary interview in the SZ, the way he also publicly cut “capitano” Michael Ballack down to size, his in part juicy insights in a book he published during his active career – Lahm was certainly anything but boring. Presumably, the perception also resulted from the fact that he was simply a completely different type than Germany was used to from its greatest.
Lahm did not approach football with emotion, but in a uniquely rational frame of mind. Many people did not like that. Especially football, which lives in no small part on emotion. And then this aloof guy appears with his rational, measured words. Well, even Lahm sometimes got carried away on the spur of the moment. For example, after the 2-5 debacle in the DFB-Pokal against Borussia Dortmund, he tried to explain how dominant Bayern actually was.
But mainly he had an impressive objectivity and rationality that distinguished him not only in interviews but also on the pitch. Lahm represents a category of footballer that is far too often underestimated. There were seasons when I was baffled by the lists of the best ten players in the world.
The really bad moments in Philipp Lahm’s career can be counted on one hand. One of them is surely the lost duel with Fernando Torres in the 2008 European Championship final. On the other hand, there were rarely any spectacles with Lahm. His goal against Costa Rica in 2006 were suggestive of something that was not in keeping with his nature.
But Lahm was a machine. It didn’t matter how great the pressure was, he always made the right decision on the pitch. Lahm was capable of shaping and controlling the game as a full-back, even dominating it – and still only a few people noticed. Pep Guardiola later chose to play him increasingly in the centre of midfield because he recognised this ability and wanted to put him even more in the crucial area where games are decided.
The only thing Lahm really “lacked” were the spectacular moments. In the obvious statistics (goals, assists) he almost never stood out. You only have to look at the rankings of various individual awards down the years to see why this meant that often he didn’t get the appreciation his performances deserved.
World class? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But Lahm was not even seen by many as the best full-back in the world. Granted: Dani Alves didn’t have too bad a career, too. But the Brazilian had a decisive advantage: he was always able to conceal his substantial tendency for fluctuating performances, especially in defence, by playing spectacularly offensively.
For me personally, Lahm was always the better full-back. Alves would have been the better winger or wing-back – but there, too, it depends on the requirement profile of the respective coach. Lahm’s trademark tackles, his feel for the right spaces, his precise passes – this man was the complete package, an anchor of reliability. I don’t mean the kind of Rafinha or Pavard reliability. This was reliable performance at a unique world-class level – with only very, very few undulations. And yes, he was also dangerous offensively, whipping in skillful crosses and with his clever and tireless runs creating the stage for Arjen Robben to shine upon while mostly going unnoticed. The Müller-Robben-Lahm triangle on the wings is still the best I’ve ever seen at FC Bayern.
Lahm is also the most intelligently playing defender I have ever seen. Maybe even the most intelligently playing footballer ever. There is this silly word “GOAT”, which is far too emotionally charged and which leads more to arguments than to constructive discussions. Greatest of all time. Already nonsensical because generations and positions can hardly be compared – and we don’t even know what happens in “all times”.
Lahm, however, is the player who has most inspired me personally as a footballer. The way he read a game and influenced it is unique given his position. For me, he belongs in the category of the best players of his generation. Worldwide. And also in the debate about the greatest players in history. It’s a pity that for many it always takes the spectacular to acknowledge that. Rationality and objectivity are anything but boring.