How long can a player be a great hope for the future before he either fulfils his destiny or burns out in a flurry of regrets? Phillip Lahm could be about to find out if his time has come or has long since passed.
Phillip Lahm has set his sights on the next level and will quit Bayern, if need be, to reach it
Germany defender Philipp Lahm has not ruled out an early departure from Bayern Munich who withdrew their offer of a three-year contract extension following extensive talks.
The club said talks with the Germany international had produced no outcome and it was therefore withdrawing the offer to the 24-year-old player who could leave on a free transfer in 2009.
"Talks between Bayern and Philipp Lahm over the extension of his contract which expires on June 30, 2009 have been inconclusive," the club said. "As a result, Bayern have withdrawn the offer of a contract extension."
Barcelona and Liverpool are among clubs who have been linked with Lahm, and Bayern could earn a princely sum for the fullback if an early transfer deal is agreed.
Lahm said in an interview it was now "well possible" that he would leave the club he joined as a 13-year-old before his contract expires, saying he would like to play for a top club outside Germany.
"I've played for two years with Stuttgart, I'm finishing my third year at Bayern, the top German club, so the logical progression is to go abroad," he explained.
Bayern could keep Lahm in Munich
However, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge reiterated in an interview with Munich's Tageszeitung daily last Tuesday that Lahm, who was won 39 caps for Germany, would fulfill his contract at the club.
"One thing is clear: Even if does not extend his contract he will not be leaving Bayern early and will fulfill his contract until June 30, 2009," he said.
Lahm played at the 2006 World Cup for Germany under Juergen Klinsmann, who succeeds Ottmar Hitzfeld as coach at Bayern next season and would like to plan with the fullback, who can play on the left or right side.
However, Lahm told Stern newsmagazine that Klinsmann's appointment would not be a factor in any decision.
"My choice doesn't depend on the identity of the coach," he said. "My career plan is that I will be leaving Bayern Munich at some point, and not when I have already gone past my peak."
Germany's next superstar looking for next level
Lahm has been a consistent international performer
Lahm has been one of Germany's most consistent performers both for his domestic clubs and the national team. He has long been held up as a potential superstar of the future and many observers believe he can only achieve this level by extending his range and experiencing other leagues.
It now seems clear that such an opportunity has presented itself.
Lahm said he would be attracted by a top club which had a better chance of winning the Champions League than Bayern.
"There are in Europe a handful of clubs who have a financial power superior to that of Bayern," explained Lahm, who said he was interested in a move to England or Spain. "Their teams play with more rhythm and assurance than Bayern."
He added that he did not believe Bayern, who look certain to win the Bundesliga this season, could go on to win the Champions League in 2009.
Schoolboy Munich star could follow Ballack
Former Munich star Ballack left for England -- will Lahm?
Lahm has been a Bayern player since joining as a schoolboy. He was released on loan to VfB Stuttgart between 2003 and 2005 where his performances earned him an international call up.
He has clocked up 39 caps for his country and was a member of the German team that finished third at the 2006 World Cup.
During his career he has played 127 Bundesliga games, winning the league title in 2003 and 2006, and the German Cup in 2003, 2006 and 2008.
Bayern are now in a similar situation they faced with Michael Ballack before the midfielder moved to Chelsea in May 2006.
After long-drawn-out talks, they publicly withdrew a lucrative offer of a contract extension, and the Germany captain eventually left on a free transfer.