BERLIN: Bayern Munich’s captain Philipp Lahm, who announced on Tuesday he will retire from all football at the end of the season, is one of the greatest defenders of his generation.
He will stand down in June, just a few months shy of his 34th birthday, with Bayern currently bidding to win a fifth straight German league title.
But his crowning glory was nearly three years prior when he led Germany to the 2014 World Cup title.
At Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana he joined an elite club of 20 World Cup winning captains, which puts him up with Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore.
Lahm has not always had an easy career, battling with injury and the hierarchy at his lifelong club Bayern Munich, for whom he made his 501st appearance on Tuesday.
Ex-Bayern coach Pepe Guardiola once described Lahm as “the most intelligent footballer I have ever managed” and often switched him from right-back to midfield.
“Philipp can play anywhere, he could be our striker if we asked him,” Guardiola added.
Lahm, who played 113 games in a decade of international duty for Germany, joined Bayern as an 11-year-old in 1995.
Back then, he saw himself as an attacking midfielder in the mould of Mehmet Scholl,a pillar of the Bayern team of the 1990s and 2000s.
But when the club decided his best place was as a defender, Italian tough guy Paolo Maldini became his hero.
Lahm has since made his name as a fearless but quiet leader, dependable and adaptable on the field.
Nowhere can that be better seen than in the “Mr 100 percent” tributes paid by the German press after an inspirational display against Hertha Berlin in a 3-1 win in March 2014.
The victory secured the 2013/2014 German title at record speed for Bayern, and Lahm carried out another record 134 passes in a league game with 100 per cent accuracy.
At the 2014 World Cup, Lahm started the group games in midfield, but coach Joachim Loew quickly switched him to his habitual place at right or left back.
– ‘Underrated’ –
Lahm scored five goals for Germany, the most important, he says, was a 90th minute strike in the 2008 European Championship semi-final that secured victory over Turkey.
In the final it was a mistake between Lahm and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann that gave away the Fernando Torres goal giving Spain victory.
With Bayern he has won seven Bundesliga titles, six German Cups, the German Super Cup three times and the Champions League, the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup.
He took over the Bayern captaincy after Dutch hardman midfielder Mark van Bommel left in January 2011 and has been loyal to his team through thick and thin.
Lahm made his debut for the senior side in 2002, but there were so many top defenders and midfielders that he was loaned out to VfB Stuttgart from 2003 to 2005.
He tore a cruciate knee ligament in one of his last games for Stuttgart and also suffered a stress fracture of the foot.
But back at Bayern, he quickly established himself as first choice fullback, turned down a big money move to Barcelona in 2008 and then quickly became frustrated.
Bayern imposed its then biggest ever disciplinary fine against Lahm in November 2009, reported to be more than 25,000 euros ($26,706), for an interview when he criticised the club transfer policy and its tactics.
“It could be that my personality had been underrated,” he was quoted as saying in a later interview.
“For me it was important to know how Bayern see me.
“And there were times when I had the impression that my opinion wasn’t 100 percent appreciated all the time.
“Now, after several good discussions, I have the feeling of being an important part of the Bayern puzzle.
“And that was very important to me.”