GCLUB, Role model Lahm bows out on a high

Germany fans have some unexpected news to digest in the wake of the national team’s fourth FIFA World Cup™ win. Five days after helping Die Mannschaft see off Argentina in the Final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, captain Philipp Lahm, one of the standard-bearers of German football, has announced his retirement from the international game.

The news has been greeted with shock in Germany, particularly as the 30-year-old gave no indication during the World Cup that he was making his last appearances for his country.

“This is the right time for me,” he commented, before adding that he was leaving the national team on excellent terms. Lahm went on to explain that he had been mulling over the decision for some time: “I knew I wouldn’t be carrying on after this World Cup.”

The skipper informed Germany coach Joachim Low of his intentions during breakfast on Monday, only a matter of hours after the 1-0 extra-time defeat of Argentina.

Versatile, valuable and popular
The Bayern Munich fullback or defensive midfielder has long had the ability to catch people off balance, as he has shown throughout an international career that lasted over ten years and during which he frustrated opponents and thrilled Germany fans with his raids down the flanks. On this occasion, however, it is off the pitch that the Munich-born Lahm has wrong-footed everyone.

While there has been plenty of speculation over the last few days about the future of Low and 36-year-old striker Miroslav Klose, there was no inkling that the team captain would be calling it a day.

“For the last ten years he has been a fantastic player for the national team and, above all else, the perfect role model. I thanked him for all he has achieved on behalf of the DFB,” said Wolfgang Niersbach, the president of the German Football Federation (DFB). Explaining that he had spoken to Lahm by telephone on Friday, Niersbach said he quickly realised there was no point in trying to get the player to change his mind.”

Last Sunday’s Final was Lahm’s 113th match for Germany, making him his country’s fourth most-capped player behind Lothar Matthaus (150), Klose (137) and Lukas Podolski (116). The Bayern Munich man is also the fourth Mannschaft captain to lift the World Cup Trophy, after Fritz Walter in 1954, Franz Beckenbauer in 1974 and Matthaus in 1990. Now an undisputed legend of the game, he is bowing out at the peak of his powers, having proved himself to be a consistent performer at the very highest level over many years.

A spearhead of the Germany team at Brazil 2014, Lahm’s many attributes include his versatility, which he showed in starting the tournament as the side’s midfield organiser, a role in which he starred last season under club coach Pep Guardiola. Following the hard-fought 2-1 defeat of Algeria in the Round of 16, however, Low moved him to the right side of a four-man defence, leaving his long-time sidekick Bastian Schweinsteiger – now fully recovered from injury – to pick up the reins in midfield.

In an interview with Stern magazine ahead of the quarter-final against France, Lahm spoke of the tactical switch: “The important thing for me is to find the best solution for the team, and that means I have to be tactically disciplined.”

His role in Low’s side had generated plenty of debate in the lead-up to Brazil 2014, though the player himself said he had no interest in adding his views to the discussion.

A national talisman
Lahm made his Germany debut in a 2-1 defeat of Croatia on 18 February 2004, and went on to score five goals for his country, GCLUB, the most fondly remembered of them a spectacular strike against Costa Rica in the Opening Match of Germany 2006, a goal that got the tournament off to the best possible start. Four years later at South Africa 2010, with Michael Ballack laid low by injury, Low had no hesitation in handing the ultra-dependable Lahm the captain’s armband.

“He understands the coach’s instructions and interprets them perfectly,” said Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany’s assistant coach at the time.

Blessed with a rare ability to read the game and the archetypal utility player, Lahm will forever embody the spirit and quality of the side that brought German football its fourth world title. His dynamism and elegance also encapsulate Die Mannschaft’s recent radical shift towards a finely honed brand of football.

“I am proud and happy that my retirement from international football has coincided with winning the World Cup in Brazil,” GCLUB, said Lahm in an open letter published on the DFB’s official website on Friday afternoon. “My thanks to all of you for a wonderful time.”

Having entered a new era following its triumphant campaign in Brazil, German football is now pondering the question of who will fill the position occupied up to now by one of the greatest defenders in its history.