Although he has been a professional footballer for a long time, there are situations Philipp Lahm is still learning to deal with. The Munich-born 30-year-old was recently sidelined for a number of games with a muscle injury – the first time that has happened in his 11-year career.
Now back to full fitness, the Bayern Munich captain wants to end the calendar year on a high by winning the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. “That would be the icing on the cake in 2013,” he told FIFA.com.
A full-back by trade, Lahm has played in several positions under new coach Pep Guardiola, including in a holding midfield role and in a more offensive midfield position. Lahm believes the number of systems in Bayern’s armoury is one of their greatest strengths.
FIFA.com: Where does the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup rank on your list of priorities?
Philipp Lahm: It’s very important – it’s not every day you get to play in a tournament like that. It’s my first time and I definitely want to win the competition.
How do you approach the matches, considering the opposition is something of an unknown quantity?
We’ll be well prepared. We played Pilsen in the UEFA Champions League and weren’t really sure what to expect. Our coaching staff will make sure we’re ready for every opponent.
You could face Ronaldinho’s Atletico Mineiro and other African and Asian teams you don’t usually get to play against. Is that what makes this tournament so special?
Of course it is. We don’t generally get to play these teams, that’s why it’s such an interesting tournament. I don’t think any of us have ever taken part. Playing at a tournament like this is special for every player, as it’s not only an international competition, but also includes teams from all the continents. We’re really excited about it.
Are you expecting a final between FC Bayern and Atletico Mineiro? We’re definitely the two favourites, though we’re probably the most fancied team. We’ll see what happens, but there won’t be any easy matches.
Do you think it’s a shame that the tournament isn’t regarded particularly highly in Germany?
The Champions League is very highly regarded in Europe but, on other continents, the Club World Cup is an important competition. It’s definitely a tournament we can win, and one we can’t expect to win every year. You have to win the Champions League in order to take part. The tournament is watched on every continent, so it’s very important for FC Bayern as a club.
Which would you rather win: The Champions League or the Club World Cup?
I’d like to win both. I’ve already won one of them, and would love to win the other.
Do you remember Bayern’s victory at the 2001 Intercontinental Cup?
I followed it from home, in front of the TV, I think. I remember celebrating after Sammy Kuffour scored the winning goal.
How much are you looking forward to being in Morocco?
It’s a new country for me, I’ve never been to Morocco. It’s always nice to get to know a new country, new people and new cultures. Of course, we’re there to play football.
Is it difficult to have to focus on a tournament of this magnitude after such a long year?
No. It’s nice to take part in a tournament like this at the end of the year. We can win the title and then go on holiday. That would be the icing on the cake in 2013.
Goal-line technology will be used in Morocco. How do you feel about that?
I think that’s something positive and really important. It’s clear it works in other sports, but football is lagging behind a little bit. It’s good if it’s being used now.
Under Pep Guardiola, you often change systems several times during a match. Do you prefer playing with an old-fashioned centre-forward or without?
That depends on the opponent, the match and the current form of the players. We can play without a conventional striker, but sometimes it’s good to have one. I don’t believe we should get rid of one or the other – we need a balance. Sometimes you need a striker who’s strong in the air, other times you need a more creative player.
Is it reassuring to know that you don’t have to rely on Tiki-Taka to score goals?
That was one of the objectives of our coach. He appreciates crosses and headed goals. We benefit from having a large squad with different types of players – we’re versatile. Mario Mandzukic is an excellent header of the ball, Claudio Pizarro is another type of player entirely. We have so many options. It doesn’t really matter how we score, as long as we do so.
To what extent has the team accepted Guardiola’s system?
We have come on leaps and bounds in recent weeks. We said at the start that it will take time, and the first couple of months took a bit of getting used to. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not at 100 per cent yet.
You were skipper under Jupp Heynckes. How has the role of captain changed under Pep Guardiola?
You always have to be careful how you speak to your coach. They also have different ways of speaking to you, of course. You speak to every coach differently, but the communication was good last season and it’s good now. There are a few differences – little details on the pitch as well as off it, how the coach talks to the players and analyses games.
You were eligible to vote for the FIFA Ballon d’Or. Who is your favourite for the award?
If someone’s voted Best Player in Europe, that player is certainly the favourite to become the World Footballer of the Year.
Who is favourite to win the FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football award?
Jupp Heynckes must be the overwhelming favourite, having won the treble last season.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ gets underway next year. What are your objectives?
There’s still a long way to go before then, but we did very well in qualifying and are definitely one of several fancied teams.
Who else would you consider favourites?
There are a number of them. You can certainly name six nations: Spain, Brazil and Argentina are big favourites. Then there’s us, the Netherlands, Italy, France. I may have forgotten a couple. There are many countries who will want to win the competition next year.
What it particularly special to win last year’s titles alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger?
It was very nice for me. We played together for the Bayern youth team at 16 and have now won the Champions League with our home club. The Club World Cup is another opportunity for us to win a title. It’s nice to experience that with someone who’s been your team-mate for 13 years.