Germany’s World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm has many good reasons to be upbeat at the moment. One of the most compelling is that he came on as an 82nd-minute substitute for Bayern Munich in last Saturday’s 4-0 victory away to Werder Bremen, ending an injury lay-off lasting almost four months: the player fractured his right ankle in a training ground accident back in November 2014.
"But I don’t have any more problems and I’m feeling really good. Once I’ve had a couple more training sessions I’ll be back to 100 per cent," he summarised after his cameo appearance.
Another reason for Lahm’s good mood is the way his Munich team-mates responded to his enforced absence. Bayern are mining a rich vein of form at the moment and lead the Bundesliga by 11 points, with the Bavarians also cruising into the quarter-finals of both the UEFA Champions League and the German Cup.
With the climax of the season now looming on the horizon, Lahm is back as a full and active member of Munich’s already star-studded squad. That is hardly welcome news for Bayern’s domestic and European rivals, as the 31-year-old has been a world-class presence in defence and midfield for many long years.
Few players in Germany or elsewhere can match Lahm’s career record as a winner of the domestic championship and cup, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and since last summer the FIFA World Cup™. Lahm retired from international football following the triumph at Brazil 2014 with 113 caps and five goals to his name, but has still not had enough. The player spoke to FIFA.com about the events of recent months and voiced his ambitious plans for the future.
FIFA.com: You captained Germany to their fourth FIFA World Cup. At what point in time did you realise you might make it?
Philipp Lahm: At the end of the day, you only become aware of it once it’s actually done and dusted and the final whistle blows, because then it’s a certainty. But before that? After EURO 2012 I said in an interview that our target had to be winning the World Cup. When you’ve been so close so often, you want the Trophy in your hands at some point. I always had the belief, but there are no guarantees.
But wasn’t there a moment where you sensed your name might be on the Trophy?
There wasn’t one moment as such. It was a process of development as a team taking place over a number of years. As an example, when we were knocked out by Italy in the 2006 semi-finals, you sensed Italy were ripe for the title. After that we fell to Spain and you also recognised this was the team destined to become world and European champions. We definitely had the belief last time out because we’d matured over a period of years, we’d built up our experience, and the defeats also gave us a shared sense of purpose.
The Italians had certain attributes underpinning their success. The Spanish had a game plan all of their own and ended up shaping an era. What were the special hallmarks of Germany’s World Cup-winning team?
More than anything else it was our togetherness and unity as a team, by which I mean the team comprising not just the 23 players, but everyone associated with it. I think it’s something everyone noticed the whole time and it was our biggest trump card. However, great quality is also always part of it, and we had that in our squad. I think every player from number one to number 23 placed himself at the disposal of the team, and that’s very, very important at a tournament like that.
Germany took everyone by surprise in 2010 with very attractive attacking football. Would it be right to say that 2014 featured a blend of the old and the newly-acquired virtues? And was this the main success factor?
Definitely! I do believe it was the combination of attributes that marked us out at the tournament. We were capable of attacking play and also liked to get at our opponents high up the field. But there were also spells in certain matches when we pulled men back and played more on the break. I definitely think we found a good blend, and we the players also benefited from our experience on the international stage in recent years. I’m including the [UEFA] Champions League, which we managed to win with Bayern.
As captain, one of your tasks was to help the players grow together as a team over a period of many weeks. Did you enjoy it?
Yes, absolutely! [laughs] That kind of thing is always fun. And I do believe that if you don’t think it’s fun, you should step down from the job. I’d say: ‘Thank you very much, but I’d rather do something else!' But I really, really enjoyed it. It’s not always easy. It’s a lot of work at times, because I invest a lot into it. I knew it was my last tournament, so I put even more into it than normal. But it was huge fun. And if you end up as world champions, you’re only too happy to do the job [grins].
Were there any situations where you had to intervene or call someone to order?
No! In the first place we had a perfectly functioning team with good harmony on and off the training ground. The [purpose-built training] camp certainly had many positive aspects. I remember the moment we arrived on the first day and immediately started a ‘round-the-table’ contest at table tennis. I think there were 15 of us. But it wasn’t something I organised. You do many other small things as captain, maybe such as geeing someone up in passing.
And who was Germany’s table tennis champion?
[laughs] No idea, too many of us played. I think the results went this way and that.
In the tight Round of 16 victory over Algeria you switched from central defensive midfield and resumed duty at right-back, where you stayed for the rest of the tournament. Was that tough?
Not in the slightest! The whole tournament just went like a dream for me! I think all of us together always took the right decisions. A few of the guys weren’t fully fit at the start of the tournament, and I always said I’d serve the team in whatever way I was asked and play where the coach thought I’d be most valuable. It’s what I’ve said throughout my career, and that’s how it was at the time. With the benefit of hindsight all you can say is that we did everything right.
The most extraordinary moment of all was a personal one – you were first to hoist the Trophy into the night sky at the Maracana. Were you aware at that moment that it was the stuff of future legend, with the whole world as your witnesses?
No, not really! I don’t feel that close to this 'then you hoisted the Trophy’ story. The final whistle, the team celebrations, climbing the stairs, receiving my medal, lifting the trophy in the Maracana – it was certainly very special – then back down the stairs, a group photo, continue the celebrations. All of it taken together is unique, and you’re aware of it at the time. But you’re not conscious of millions of people watching. You’re thinking something more like: 'We’ve achieved something really special’. I just found it wonderful. It was the best hour or so ever!
A short time later you announced your retirement from international football. Are there certain situations in which you find yourself missing it at all?
[considers his answer] Basically no. The one thing I miss is seeing the guys. Not the players, the support staff. And that’s a shame, because at the moment you step down, you know you’ll be seeing them again very, very rarely, and some of them never again. It’s such a shame because I always enjoyed it so much and the support staff were simply superb. I had ten years in the national team, I felt so incredibly comfortable with the setup and I had a genuinely close relationship with many of the support staff. It’s the only thing I miss. Of course, I can still drop by from time to time if I want to, so I’m basically absolutely fine with the situation and I know it was the right decision for me personally.
You have a little more time now – what are you doing that you couldn’t do before?
That’s easy – I’m spending it with my family. I have a wife and we have a son, so it’s really nice being at home more often. That’s specially true in the first half of the season with three international breaks, each of them ten days long. But it’s not always about time. I had ten wonderful years with the national team, but at some point you have to move on. You need to acknowledge this fact and in my case we picked exactly the right time. It was perhaps a little fortunate or a stroke of luck that the end coincided with winning the World Cup, because I’d taken my decision a long, long time in advance.
So how should we imagine you these days when Germany are playing? Relaxing on the sofa in jogging pants?
[laughs] Jogging pants and the sofa sounds very good. Yes, something like that! I’m not the kind of guy who insists on sitting there and watching games on his own. I like to watch in a group, and that’s what I usually do. A nice evening in front of the telly watching the football, and fingers crossed for the lads. That’s really cool!
You’ve won the biggest prizes on offer for both club and country. How hard is it to keep your focus and set new targets? And what are those targets?
I find it relatively easy. It’s been obvious again this season as the Bayern Munich players have successfully maintained their momentum from the World Cup. We’re elite athletes, so we’re motivated and always aiming for the biggest targets. We may have achieved it in the past, but we want to repeat it. We want to experience the whole thing again. At Bayern that obviously means winning the league and cup, no question about it. But our biggest target is to win the Champions League again. It would be a dream come true all over again.