Very few players deserve to be pinned with the accolade of legend. Even fewer of these are fullbacks. Philipp Lahm is undoubtably one of the few.
With the announcement of his retirement from the German national side, at the relatively infantile age of 30, a pint sized hole will be left in international football that may never be filled.
His debut tournament at Euro 2004 in Portugal didn’t particularly unveil the exceptional international career that was to come. Germany failed to get out of the group stages but his performances were noted as glimmer of light in the bleakness of the German national team. The poor showing at Portugal 2004 was a contributory catalyst to the revamp of the national setup that bore fruits spectacularly this year.
Since those dark times Germany have built a distinctly respectable CV. Semifinalists at World Cup 2006, runners up at Euro 2008, semifinalists at World Cup 2010, Semifinalists at euro 2012, and finally, the cherry on top at Brazil 2014. Captain Lahm lifted the FIFA World Cup trophy to end an enviable international career.
Bearing the hallmarks of lazy German stereotypes Lahm’s football is efficient, precise and unwavering. Deceptively quick, a leader and an organiser with a cool head. Lahm is the epitome of a modern fullback with the added advantage of being able to defend. Giving Germany width in attack, it’s surprising how good his defensive positioning is. Baresi & Beckenbauer would be proud. As comfortable shutting down an opposition attack as picking the telling pass from the opposition byline, he’s more than the complete fullback, he’s the complete footballer.
Under Guardiola at Bayern, Philipp has been moved from defensive flank to the base of midfield. This genius reinvention of such a gifted player has elevated his stock even further. Pep has given Lahm not only the chance to demonstrate his aforementioned qualities from the centre of the park, but also highlight his passing abilities. Far more than a defensive midfielder breaking up play, Lahm is used as pivot between defence and attack. The focal for transition periods between phases of play. In typical style he plays this role efficiently and with pace. The axis to how Bayern can counter attack so quickly and precisely. A majestic footballer.
It’s true that the Bayern midfield position hadn’t translated as well to the German National team, but when you can play another position nigh on perfectly, it’s no great shakes.
The German side now has to come to terms to life without Lahm. As devastating and as blessed with talent as they are in attack, a back four without Philipp is not a back four to be feared. The Germans still have quality throughout there squad but once there defence was sturdy, was reliable, was threatening. Not anymore, not without a legend.