FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: No.24 – Philipp Lahm
Jamie Carragher may once have asserted that “no one wants to be a full-back as a kid”, but it’s safe to say that aspiring young footballers across the world would jump at the chance to have a career even half as successful as Lahm’s.
The Bayern Munich captain has won eight league titles, seven German Cups, the Champions League and the World Cup since breaking through in 2002. And while he recently refused to rule out the prospect of retiring at the end of the current campaign, his medal collection would have been more substantial than the vast majority of his peers even if he’d hung up his boots half a decade ago.
Lahm’s 2016 began with Bayern’s 2-1 victory over Hamburg on January 22, one of 26 wins he’s been involved in throughout the calendar year so far. The Bavarians' latest championship in the spring moved the right-back level with former team-mates Mehmet Scholl, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Oliver Kahn as the players with the most Bundesliga crowns in the division’s history, and Lahm is as essential as ever to his team’s annual procurement of silverware.
Technically excellent and tactically intelligent, the full-back is able to contribute in both attacking and defensive phases of play
Germany head coach Joachim Low is entitled to wonder whether Euro 2016 would have similarly ended in success for the world champions had Lahm not called it a day at international level two years previously. Although Joshua Kimmich performed admirably out of position at right-back after a failed experiment involving Schalke’s Benedikt Howedes, the Germans patently missed the experience, leadership and calming presence of a man who won 113 caps during his time as a member of the national team.
The fact that numerous fans of Die Mannschaft were keen to see him make a return for the tournament in France says everything about Lahm’s enduring quality. Technically excellent and tactically intelligent, the full-back is able to contribute in both attacking and defensive phases of play, all while rarely affording an opponent too much space or finding himself out of a position at a critical moment.
Lahm has tended to stick to right-back in 2016 following a spell in central midfield early on in Pep Guardiola's tenure, but his understanding of the game is such that he’d probably be one of the leading contenders to fill in elsewhere were Bayern hit by an injury crisis at some point this season.
Nearing the end
Carlo Ancelotti – the eighth different manager Lahm has worked under at the Allianz Arena – believes the 33-year-old has more gas remaining in the tank
With so much still to give, then, Lahm surely won't walk away from the game in a few months’ time? “He won’t retire just yet, I simply don’t believe that,” club colleague Javi Martinez insisted in November, prompting a sigh of relief from Bayern supporters everywhere. “I’d say he still has four or so years left in him.”
The club’s new boss Carlo Ancelotti – the eighth different manager Lahm has worked under at the Allianz Arena – believes the 33-year-old has even more gas left in the tank. “He's always the first to arrive [to training] and the last to leave,” the Italian revealed in an interview with Sport1 in August. “I'm convinced that he can play until he's 39.”
Football fans everywhere – including those under the age of 18 – should hope that Ancelotti is right.