What better time to end one’s international career than with a World Cup. When Germany captain Philipp Lahm lifted the World Cup trophy in Brazil after the 1-0 win against Argentina no one knew it would be his last game for the team. After 10 years, 113 caps and several team and individual honors, Lahm decided to call an end to his international career at the age of 30.
For his many admirers it was a bittersweet moment following the euphoria of the much-anticipated and long-awaited title triumph of Germany’s “golden generation”. But for Lahm it was a decision he pondered all season and the World Cup win topped off a near flawless career for the versatile Bayern player who had been a model professional and example to everyone in German football.
The young and the wild
Lahm entered the national team fold in one of the team’s darkest periods. The early 2000s were a heavy period of transition for both the national team and German football. Humiliation at the 2000 EUROs and the disappointment two years prior at the World Cup in France could not be masked by Germany’s run to the final in Japan and South Korea in 2002. Germany experienced a talent dearth and desperately needed an infusion of fresh young talent. The problem was, there was not much around.
There was Philipp Lahm, though. Lahm was one of German football’s biggest and best prospects back then. Still the humble and sometime timid player he is now, Lahm slowly worked his way into Bayern Munich’s first team before sent on loan to Stuttgart in 2003 where he truly started to blossom. Part of Felix Magath’s “young and wild” team, Lahm became a symbol of the team’s energetic and youthful style. So much so that it caught the eye of Germany coach Rudi Völler who knew he needed to make some changes ahead of the 2004 EUROs or face another embarrassing campaign.
Sure enough, Lahm was called into the team in February of 2004 making his debut against Croatia. Then just 21, Lahm played the full 90 minutes and was selected Man of the Match by German football magazine kicker. Lahm eventually made the squad for the EUROs and ended up starting every group stage match. Germany didn’t make it past the group stages but there was no doubt about the biggest positive of the tournament: 21-year-old Philipp Lahm. It was the beginning of a new era for the national team.
Emergence of the Golden Generation
The World Cup win in Brazil was the culmination of years worth of work. A lot of that had its origin following the 2004 EUROS with the appointment of Jürgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann began blooding in a new generation of players that eventually became the face of the national team and this generation of German players. Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski were the first wave of that generation and all three featured heavily at the 2006 World Cup which was a giant success for Germany and set the platform for even greater progress.
All the while, Lahm started becoming a centripetal figure for the club. Regardless of the changes that occurred in those years, Lahm was a constant. His opening goal at the 2006 World Cup will forever be engrained in the minds of Germany supporters, symbolic of their successful campaign and the explosive introduction of a new team. Lahm became the spearhead and symbolic figure of a team playing a new, more dynamic and exciting brand of football. Lahm was one of Germany’s best performers in 2006 and was selected for the World Cup All-Star team.
Lahm was again a central figure two years later at the EUROS in Austria and Switzerland where new coach Jogi Löw played him at right-back and eventually back on the left later in the tournament. In a tense and exhausting semi-final against Turkey Lahm scored the match winner to send Germany to the final. They lost there to Spain’s own “golden generation” but the team took a giant step forward tactically and collectively.
Fine-tuning and the big payoff
The World Cup in South Africa in 2010 was a huge transformative moment for the national team. The team’s captain, Michael Ballack, was injured prior to the tournament and Lahm was selected as the team’s new and 12th captain in World Cup history. Before an integral part of the team, now the leader of a talented group of what many called the most talented group of players in decades. Lahm became the youngest player to captain Germany at the World Cup.
The first wave of the golden generation welcomed the second in players like Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller. Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Podolski now had a new crop of young faces to supplement a solid foundation. Germany were THE standout team in South Africa. They exhibited attacking football not seen from the national team in years and although they were again bested by Spain, the “new” Germany had finally arrived.
The EUROs in 2012 represented somewhat of a road bump but it was an invaluable learning experience for the team that would finally come together in Brazil and fulfill their potential. Lahm again led Germany in Poland and the Ukraine but the disjointed nature and ultimate lack of tactical identity resulted in elimination in the semi-finals to Italy. In the two years between the EUROs and the World Cup in Brazil, Lahm became an important figure in reuniting the team internally and laying the foundation for the success at the World Cup.
When Brazil came around, Germany were approaching their peak. Lahm had begun playing in midfield while the players around them had all found their place in the team. Lahm’s presence and ability to fill in at many positions brought the team a sense of harmony and stability. As the tournament progressed, Germany got better and better. The culmination came in the historic 7-1 win against Brazil in the semi-finals and then the last step against Argentina in the final. Lahm was at the heart of Germany’s performances in Brazil and was shortlisted for the best player of the tournament award.
In a sense, Germany’s development has very much been aligned with that of Lahm and his emergence in German football. Lahm was at the forefront of Germany’s rise in the early 2000s and played a big part in carrying them forward. Without Lahm it is difficult to imagine Germany making the strides they have in the last six years. There is no doubt that even after his retirement, he will have left a significant mark on the team and one that many young players will seek to emulate.
Praise comes pouring in
No surprise that a player universally beloved elicited praise from all corners following his announcement, a great example of what his teammates thought of him:
Angela Merkel (German Chancellor): I want to express my greatest respect for what he has done and accomplished with the German national team.
Bastian Schweinsteiger: I will miss you in the national team, my friend. Had a great time together.
Lukas Podolski: Philipp, it was a great honor to play alongside you for ten years for Germany and three years at Bayern and to experience all our success together.
Thomas Müller: There is no better time to end your national team career than now. Philipp put his bones on the line for years.
André Schürrle: Danke Philipp!!!
Per Mertesacker: It was my great honor, captain Philipp Lahm!
Jérome Boateng: Thank you, Philipp.
Mesut Özil: Thank you Philipp, thank you for everything, you will be missed.
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