Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalties and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
In sports, superior athleticism doesn’t always win out. If it did, the game would quickly become predictable and less naturally gifted players wouldn’t ever stand a chance. Intelligence means something in sport, especially soccer. One of the more cerebral players in the game, Philipp Lahm knows this full well. As an inspiration to short, light players everywhere, the 5 ft 7 in, 30-year-old Lahm has captained his club team Bayern Munich and the German national team with aplomb. His career is already rich with success and he won’t be slowing down any time soon. But how did someone who physically looks more like an accountant transform into an international soccer star?
Hometown Boy – Club Career
Coming up through the Bayern Munich Junior Team, Lahm was destined for great things early. The hometown kid joined their youth program at the age of 11 and quickly showed he belonged. Two days after his 19th birthday, he made his first team debut for Bayern in a group stage Champions League match. However, he was wisely loaned out to VfB Stuttgart soon after, as Bayern already had a line of top fullbacks to choose from.
Stuttgart is where Lahm would hone his game with regular time on the pitch against Bundesliga squads. During the 2003-04 season, he became their starting left back and was already showing major promise as a fresh-faced 20-year-old. Those Stuttgart teams weren’t bad (they finished 4th that year), but I’m sure Lahm was relieved when he returned to Bayern in July of 2005.
He became the starting left back for mighty Bayern Munich during the 2006-07 season and never looked back. Well, except when he almost transferred to Barcelona in 2008. Now that he has played for Bayern for so long, it’s almost impossible to imagine him in a Barca uniform. Of course, this didn’t happen and Lahm became the Bayern captain in January 2011.
Throughout his career in Munich, his team has seen varying levels of success, as long as you define “varying” as no worse than 4th place in the Bundesliga. Since Lahm joined Bayern, they have picked up a ridiculous 5 first place Bundesliga trophies (and they’re on their way to a sixth). They also have finished runner-up in the Champions League twice and won it all once (in 2012-13). His individual accolades include 4 times as a member of the UEFA Team of the Year and an inclusion in last year’s FIFA World XI.
Forever Third – International Career
After excellent performances on Germany’s youth squads, Lahm has now made over 100 appearances for Germany’s senior team since 2004, which makes him the 6th most capped German player ever. He has been a large part of Germany’s 3rd place finishes in the last two World Cups – making the tournament’s All-Star team both times. Before the 2010 Cup, he became captain of the national team. However, they have been foiled by Spain’s international dominance. Lahm was a key part of the 2008 Germany team that finished runner-up behind Spain at the Euros that year. In Euro 2012, Mario Balotelli’s two goals kept them from reaching the finals again, but Lahm’s play has been as consistent as ever.
Now they approach the 2014 World Cup ranked 2nd in the world behind Spain. Finishing 2nd or 3rd has to be getting old for Germany at this point. Could this be the year they finally break through and end Spain’s dominance? If it is, captain Philipp Lahm will have a major hand in doing so.
While Lahm has spent time at both left and right back during his career, new Bayern manager Pep Guardiola has recently made him a defensive midfielder. Why? “Lahm is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained… He is at another level.” That quote is from Pep, who obviously doesn’t need to be educated on what Lahm can do on the pitch. The shift to a defensive mid shows his versatility and consistency, as well as his supreme intellect. All of this praise doesn’t even mention his pitch perfect passing. Last season he racked up 11 assists, in addition to 4 more in Champions League play.
Off the Pitch
Most football players have trouble matching Lahm philanthropically. His foundation, Philipp Lahm-Stiftung, supports underprivileged children in sport and education. He also has done work to battle AIDS and homophobia. Philipp married Claudia just days after the 2010 World Cup and they had a son named Julian in August of 2012.
He’s only 30, yet Lahm has already amassed over 300 Bundesliga appearances and 100 national team caps. Even though he may look like a teenager, his skill on the pitch and poised captaincy for his club and national teams will allow him to go down as one of the greatest fullbacks to play the game. Lahm’s limited athleticism and subtle play have been the reason he hasn’t finished higher in the Ballon d’Or voting in years past. This is a shame, because you would be hard pressed to find a better player that does what he does.