Philipp Lahm was the prototype of all the good things about German football – its resilience, its discipline, its winning mentality and its success.
As Bayern Munich prepared to win their 10th consecutive Bundesliga title, 2014 World Cup winner Captain Lahm took time to reflect on his past and look to the changing horizon of modern football in an exclusive interview with the Times of India.
You are considered one of the greatest defenders in modern football. What do you think are the qualities required to become a good defender?
I believe that apart from the central defenders, everyone is now more or less a midfielder. And so, for an outside defender like me, it’s extremely important that you have the balance between attack and defense. However, what I’ve been missing lately is the art of defending well one-on-one.
Leading Germany to world Cup in 2014 was a perfect farewell for you. Have you ever believed in such a dream ending for your international career?
We are a footballing nation and you have to believe that because you always have the chance to play for the title. And as you rightly said, leaving the national team with the World Cup was a perfect farewell for me. But there is always luck. We believed in it and thank God it happened.
One of the images of this World Cup was that you were consoling Oscar after that 7-1 victory against Brazil. . .
I remember what went through my mind when we scored the fifth goal and took a 5-0 lead before half-time. I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ When you face Brazil in the semi-finals 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 shots on goal. And the game ended at halftime!
You are considered a legend at FC Bayern Munich. The team have just won the 10th consecutive Bundesliga title. But bearing in mind the team’s high standards in international football, how do you view their loss to Villarreal in the Champions League quarter-finals?
Yes, as you rightly said, it is important for Bayern to always be champions. They want to be No. 1 in Germany. But of course, if you get knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals against a supposedly weaker team, that’s not good enough for FC Bayern.
Over the past decade a number of non-German coaches like Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Louis van Gaal managed FC Bayern Munich. You have played under all of them. How has the arrival of these managers helped?
Verry much. Especially Van Gaal. When he arrived he changed a lot of things for us, especially the game system. 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 bound to listen carefully. So for me as a player it was always something new to get new ideas from these coaches. It was certainly something special and did the club a lot of good.
As the modern game has become more attack oriented, as more and more coaches focus on an attacking system, what impact has this had on the art of defense?
Now you have to defend more space. When you attack a lot and play a lot with possession, of course the opponent has a lot of space at the back, and that changes your approach to defence. But I think it would be good for football if more teams focused on defense again. The game has evolved a lot and it has become a very offensive game. But sometimes I would also like to see more defensive control in the game.
Many clubs are now ready to offer crazy contracts to players looking for instant success. How do you see the game changing in that regard?
This is certainly related to the digitization and globalization of the game. You can watch the matches everywhere. You can follow the player you like. You can see everything. This, of course, makes it very attractive for many companies to invest in football. That’s, I think, where the big money comes from. I don’t think that’s good. But it is also an evolution and it is so 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 European football stars?
It’s hard to say. From a German point of view, I would say Chelsea’s Kai Havertz. There is Erling Haaland, of course. I also find Phil Foden very, very interesting. I am also thinking of Vinicius Junior from Real Madrid.
The Bundesliga is gaining popularity in India. In your opinion, what differentiates the German championship from other European championships?
First, our 50+1 rule, meaning that no investor can take over the club completely. I think that’s a big difference compared to most other leagues. Otherwise, the way of playing is different everywhere. In England, Spain and Italy, each league has a distinct style of play. But in Germany you see a kind of mix of different styles of play, 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. It takes patience and time. The infrastructure is very important, so that children, both girls and boys, have easy access to go to a football club and train there.
Gary Lineker once said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end the Germans win”. But has Germany lost that sense of invincibility lately?
You have to work and earn statements like that. Germany worked for that statement, especially for a time against England. As a footballing nation, Germany is always one of the favorites and you have to prove it time and time again. Germany were eliminated early twice in a row (World Cup in 2018 and Euro 2021). So unfortunately what Lineker said might not apply to Germany anymore lately.
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