Exclusive: Bowing out with World Cup a perfect end for me, says Philipp Lahm
Germany and Bayern Munich legend Philipp Lahm feels football has become very offence orientedPhilipp Lahm has been the prototype of all good things about German football – its resilience, discipline, winning mentality and success.
As Bayern Munich marched towards lifting their 10th Bundesliga title in a row, the 2014 World Cup-winning captain Lahm took his time to reflect on his past and look forward towards the changing horizon of modern football in an exclusive interview with the Times of India.
You are regarded as one of the greatest defenders of modern football. What, according to you, are the qualities required to become a good defender?
I believe that apart from the central defenders, everyone else now is more or less a midfielder. And so, for an outside defender like me, it’s enormously important that you have the balance between offence and defence. However, what I’ve been missing lately is the art of defending well in one-on-one situations. Leading Germany to the World Cup in 2014 was a perfect farewell for you.
Did you ever believe in such a dream-come-true end to your international career?
We are a football nation and you have to believe it because you always have the chance to play for the title. And as you rightly said, quitting the national team with the World Cup was perfect farewell for me. But there is always luck involved. We believed in it and thank God, it happened.
One of the images from that World Cup was you consoling Oscar after that 7-1 win against Brazil. . .
I remember what went through my mind when we scored the fifth goal and took the 5-0 lead before halftime. I was thinking to myself, ‘What’s going on here?’ When you play Brazil in the semifinal of a World Cup and that too in Brazil, you usually think it’s going to be very, very close until the end of the 90 minutes… Maybe 120 minutes, maybe even penalty shootout. And the game was over at halftime!
You are regarded as a legend at FC Bayern Munich. The team has just won the 10th straight Bundesliga title. But keeping in mind the team’s high standards in international football, how do you see its loss to Villarreal in the Champions League quarterfinals?
Yes, as you rightly said, it’s important for Bayern to always be champions. They want to be the No. 1 in Germany. But of course, if you are eliminated in the quarterfinals of Champions League against a supposedly weaker team, that is not satisfactory for FC Bayern.
In the past decade, a number of non-German coaches like Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Louis van Gaal have managed FC Bayern Munich. You have played under all of them. How has the arrival of these managers helped?
Enormously. Van Gaal especially. When he arrived, he changed a lot of things for us, including the system of play. It was more about possession. Pep then perfected that, so to speak, and Carlo Ancelotti is an incredibly successful figure, and when he says something, every player is forced to listen to him carefully. So, for me as a player, it was always something new to get fresh ideas from these coaches. That was certainly something special and did the club a lot of good.
As the modern game has become more attack-oriented, as more coaches are focusing on an offensive system, how has it impacted the art of defending?
Now, you need to defend more space. When you attack a lot and play a lot with possession, of course the opponent has a lot of spaces at the back, and it changes your approach to defending. But I think it would be good for football if more teams put more emphasis on defence again. The game has moved forward a lot and it’s become a very offence-oriented game. But sometimes I would like to see more defensive control over the game as well.
Many clubs are now ready to offer crazy contracts to players looking to gain instant success. How do you see the game changing in this regard?
This is certainly related to digitalization and globalization of the game. You can watch the games everywhere. You can follow the player you love. You can see everything. This, of course, makes it very interesting for many companies to invest in football. That, I think, is where the big money comes from. I don’t think it’s good. But that’s also a development and that’s the way it is in today’s world. Messi and Ronaldo have dominated European football for the past two decades.
Who are likely to be the next generation of stars in European football?
It’s hard to say. From a German perspective, I would say Kai Havertz from Chelsea. There’s Erling Haaland, of course. I also find Phil Foden very, very interesting. I also think of Vinicius Junior from Real Madrid. Bundesliga is gaining popularity in India.
What, according to you, differentiates the German league from other European leagues?
Firstly, our 50+1 rule, that is, no investor can take over the club completely. I think that’s a big difference from most other leagues. Otherwise, the way of playing is different everywhere. In England, Spain and Italy, each league has a distinct style of playing. But in Germany, you see kind of a mix of different styles of playing, which makes the league very interesting.
What does a country like India need to make an impact and achieve something in football?
It takes time. You need patience and time. The infrastructure is very important, so that the children, girls as well as boys have easy access to go to a soccer club and train there. Gary Lineker once said that “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win”.
But have Germany lost that sense of invincibility of late?
You have to work for and earn statements like that. Germany worked for this statement, especially for a certain period of time against England. As a football nation, Germany are always one of the favourites and you have to prove that time and again. Germany have been knocked out early twice in a row (World Cup in 2018 and Euro 2021). So, sadly, what Lineker said might no longer be applied to Germany in recent times.