Germany left-back Phillipp Lahm on his way to become a star
"He reminds me of Cafu when he was young"
Phillipp Lahm forces the pace, on and off the pitch. The 22-year-old's career accelerates at present, "little boy" has been compared to the biggest footballers of the game's history.
On his way to become a star: Philipp Lahm.
The small white ball flies over the 14cm net, goes clack on the other side and is too fast then to be returned by Arne Friedrich. Well done, this smash. The point is for Philipp Lahm. "When you see him playing table tennis, you can see immediately what skills he has with handling a ball", Michael Skibbe says.
In 2004, when Skibbe was team manager Rudi Völler's assistent during the European championship in Portugal, he sometimes watched the Bayern München left-back when he was "unfaithful" to football. What he has kept in mind is Lahm's particular nimbleness. "Philipp is extremly quick and agile", Skibbe says. This goes both for table tennis and football.
While Germany played a rather disappointing tournament in Portugal, Lahm was "one of the winners", as then team manager Rudi Völler said. Two years later, at this year's World Cup finals, Lahm is again among the most inspirational players in Germany's team.
Roque Santa Cruz was laughed at when he named Lahm as the future World Cup star in an interview with kicker few weeks ago. Santa Cruz only wanted to make a joke. Now one of the greatest players ever, Diego Maradona himself, has rated Lahm in a similar way after Germany's win in their opening match against Costa Rica. Lahm could become one of the superstars of the tournament, he said.
The player with the number 16 was this year's finals' first goalscorer. It was a beautiful goal, scored with an angular shot from the left edge of the penalty box, the ball bouncing off the far post into the net. It was his second goal in his 20th appearance for Germany. In the Bundesliga he also scored twice in 73 matches, while in the Champions League his tally still shows 0 in eleven fixtures. There, he still can improve.
However, his task is rather to provide service to the strikers. It was his cross from the left wing that initiated Klose's 3:1 against Costa Rica. Also against Poland he showed his effectiveness when he made several inch-perfect assists on Klose and Podolski. It wasn't his fault that both strikers didn't take these chances. Just as Paul Breitner in Germany's World Cup winning side of 1974 Lahm permanently presses forward. The modern, offensive role of a full-back fits in very well with Lahm's abilities.
Thanks to his various features he is able to finish his offensive moves without loosing possession, whether he makes a fine pass without stifling the own attack, or whether he produces a highspeed dribbling including a right move or left move, or straight through two opposing players. And he always keeps his pace. He can come from a standing position up to high speed, which proved very useful against Costa Rica and Poland, who both keep it very tight at the back, barricading their penalty area and leaving few space to their opponents. And this will probably prove very effective also against Ecuador and any other team that put their focus on a solid defence.
Skibbe gets almost crazy about Lahm's nimbleness during his dribblings, and about his agility and his zigzag moves. The present Bayer Leverkusen manager also attributes him a "high degree of tactical understanding". Lahm needs these abilities to compensate for his physical handicaps, weighing only 64 kilos and measuring 1,70 meters. He has started do so in the youth team already.
"There are very few players who can run up and down the pitch during the entire 90 minutes without easing off."
Rudi Völler about Philipp Lahm
At the age of 14-16 he lacked resilience, durability and robustness. So he had to concentrate on improving his technical skills. This was hard work, but his effort payed off. Today, "little boy" is even competitive in the aerial challenges, which has been proved by efficiency tests saying that he jumps 58 cenitmeters high without running up.
His acceleration and sprint data are also very impressive. Völler mentions Lahm's "enormous speed" and "enormous endurance". There were "very few players who can run up and down the pitch during the entire 90 minutes without easing off", the former World Cup striker says and adds: "He reminds me of Cafu when he was young."
Also Uli Stielike, Lahm's Under-21 coach, draws the parallel to the Brazilian World Champion from 1994 and 2002. Both players had a rather dainty constitution, he says. However, "Philipp doesn't have Cafu's experience, yet", he adds.
Cafu, the Brazil skipper. Or Paolo Maldini. It is Jürgen Klinsmann who links Lahm with the Italian left-back legend after the 1:0 win against Poland; Lahm himself has named Maldini his idol.
The Bayern Munich youngster is surrounded by great names at the moment. He enjoys the situation and just listens when the team manager, who sits at a two-chairs distance to him, expresses his eulogy: "He has incredible qualities", "his anticipation is almost unique", "he always stays cool", "he always finds the best solution", "he plays on an international level, definitely", to mention some extractions.
One hour later at the floor below Joachim Löw accelerates his statement. He praises Lahm as an "outstanding player" who "nearly always behaves in the right way". This means: He dribbles when he has to dribble; he moves diagonally when he has to move diagonally; me makes a pass when he has to make a pass; he moves ahead without having the ball when... exactly.
His understanding of the game is a genetical gift, one cannot learn this. It has been refined through various education: in the youth teams he was given a role as a right winger before he changed to central defensive midfield. Later on he also played as right-back.
Philipp Lahm has arrived in international football, his definite position being left-back. He has been linked with both Chelsea and Real Madrid recently. And even if he insists that he concentrates exclusively on the tournament at present, it could happen that he moves abroad, provided that the conditions are convenient.
Lahm smiles as only he knows to smile and tells us about fun with football. One can't imagine that he was desperately crying when he came out from anaesthesia on may 17th. He had just underwent elbow surgery and the World Cup was far away.