Philipp Lahm rates as one of the world’s best full-backs, and at the age of 29 can already look back on a highly successful career. The current Germany captain contested two FIFA World Cups™ in 2006 and 2010, and the UEFA EURO in 2004, 2008 and 2012, finishing four of the tournaments as a member of the All-Star team. However, he has yet to collect major honours in national colours.
By contrast, Lahm has amassed plenty of silverware with Germany's most successful club Bayern Munich. The 1.70 m defender, who is equally at home on the left or right and captains his club as well as his country, has four Bundesliga winner’s medals and has lifted the German Cup three times. But in an eerie parallel to his national team record, the Munich-born player has yet to lay hands on a European trophy.
This Saturday, Lahm and his team-mates are hoping it will be third time lucky in the UEFA Champions League. Bayern fell to Inter in 2010 and on their home field to Chelsea last season, but are aiming to reverse the trend when they make their third appearance in the final in the last four years in the all-German clash with Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.
In the build-up to the eagerly awaited showdown in Europe's elite club competition, Lahm spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the Dortmund clash, his dream of appearing at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and his community projects for kids in Germany and Africa.
FIFA.com: Philipp Lahm, welcome to Home of FIFA. What brings you to Zurich today?
Philipp Lahm: I came here to FIFA to discuss my charity foundation. It's always an exciting topic. The foundation supports kids and youths in Africa and Germany. We're principally active in the areas of sport and education, which I think fit well together. In Germany, the Philipp Lahm Summer Camp is definitely the biggest project.
You mention sport: what role can football specifically play in terms of social and community development?
Let me state this clearly: football brings people together. People happily play football all over the world. Many people, especially kids and youths, really enjoy the sport. But I'd like to emphasise that football isn't the only priority at our summer camp. There are three main programme elements: sport, nutrition and character development. They fit extremely well together, and they were and are very important for my life and my career.
It's never a given for professional footballers to become involved in social projects. What prompted you to find ways of helping other people?
I have a family, friends and football, so I'm just trying to pass on some of my good fortune to others. Unfortunately, there are many kids in the world who don't have the good luck I've had. It's a duty to give back something of what I've experienced, and I really enjoy it.
You also enjoyed appearing on the balcony of Munich Town Hall a short time ago when Bayern celebrated winning the Bundesliga with their fans. How much does it matter to know you’re top dogs in Germany again?
Winning the league is always special, finishing the season right at the top. It's the most worthy achievement, because it means you’ve delivered the best performance across the full 34 matches. And this season, we've broken a few records. It's obviously very special indeed, but we're not done yet.
No one disputes that Bayern have the strongest squad in the Bundesliga, but it inevitably means star names dropping to the bench. Despite this, coach Jupp Heynckes has clearly managed to keep all his players happy. Is that the secret of your success this season?
Especially at a club like Bayern, where we don't just have 11 top-class players, but rather a squad of 24 top players, this kind of thing is very important. Let me say loud and clear that the coaching staff have done a superb job and dealt with the situation exceptionally calmly. They've made sure everyone feels important to the team, and that’s the only way you'll succeed in three separate competitions.
The UEFA Champions League final takes place in just a few days’ time. How significant is the all-German encounter, which ironically enough takes place at Wembley in London?
We had a very special highlight last season with the final on our home ground in Munich. Unfortunately we lost the game. Having the final at Wembley is obviously sensational. The fact it's between two German teams is great for German football, but that's only a minor point for the players.
What will it take on the day for you to win the Champions League?
Everything has to come together for a Champions League final. It's a meeting between two top teams, and it often comes down to form on the day or who makes the fewest mistakes. We'll have to work hard in defence, which is what we've been doing the whole season. And we have so much attacking quality, we're always good for a goal.
Two Bundesliga teams contesting the final of Europe's most important competition is further evidence of the giant strides taken by German football in recent years. How would you assess this process?
There was a radical shift in terms of youth and junior development quite a few years ago. The emphasis switched to young, talented German players. Our youth academies have become more and more professional, and that's why we've made progress. On top of that, we're in great financial shape at Bayern and we've picked up experience. We've made the Champions League final three times in the last four seasons. It's all part of being successful. But it's true that German football has come on a lot. We have a very good national team, but we still have to win something. A German team will win European honours this season, and we're obviously hoping it'll be Bayern.
If you do win the Champions League with your club, what is there left to aim for in the future?
If we win this trophy, I want us to go on and win the German cup a week later. Then we're off on holiday, and then it starts again from scratch. The team is hungry, as we've seen throughout the season. We refused to be distracted by our huge lead [in the Bundesliga], nor by losing last season's Champions League final. We've stuck to our course, and we'll continue on it. We're hoping to win the treble, and I'm very confident. This team could be very successful over the next few years, both at home and in Europe.
Many observers feel the future looks bright for Germany too. The FIFA World Cup takes place in Brazil next year. What are your expectations of the tournament?
First of all, we have to qualify for the World Cup. Naturally, it's fantastic for me as a player. We had the 2006 World Cup on home soil and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and now another new continent with South America. Contesting the World Cup on different continents is the best thing of all as a player. It's great and I'm excited by it. We still have to qualify, but then I'm expecting a sensational atmosphere in a passionate footballing country.
Germany currently pick from a sizeable pool of exceptionally talented players. Is the 2014 FIFA World Cup a 'now or never' project?
There's no question we have a sensational squad, but we also know just how difficult it is to win a World Cup. Not many German national teams have achieved it, and it's an exceptionally tough task. But it's terrific that we’re realistically in with a chance of the Trophy, and not for the first time. That's always been the case at recent World Cups and EUROs, and it’s been very special. Whether we can win it in Brazil depends on many small things. Unfortunately, you can't make predictions, but we can feel positive about the World Cup because we have a superb squad.
Finally, after considering the near future, let's look further ahead for you personally. Where will you be in 15 years' time?
First of all, I want to continue playing successful football. After that, I'd definitely like to stay in the game because I love this particular sport. I already have plenty to do on behalf on my foundation, and after I finish playing, I'd like to be even more involved.