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Philipp Lahm: A smart footballer who'll go on his own terms

February 8, 2017

Philipp Lahm will retire as that rarest of creatures, a Bayern Munich and Germany captain widely admired around the world. The 33-year-old's intelligence shone through his career and he'll leave on his own terms.

München Philip Lahm verkündet Abschied
Image: Getty Images/Bongarts/A. Grimm

In some ways, Philipp Lahm's retirement, a year earlier than planned, came as a bolt from the blue. The Bayern Munich captain is still a crucial cog in the clubs' machinery, is just 33 and retired from the slog of international football in 2014.

But Lahm is a footballer that's always stood apart. A slight, baby-faced figure standing at just 1.70 meters (5 feet 7 inches) at first appears an unlikely leader of one of Europe's biggest club and national sides, but that is exactly what he's become.

For Lahm, leadership has been about professionalism, discipline, adaptability and teamwork. After a spell on loan at Stuttgart at the beginning of his career, he broke through the ranks at his hometown club as a left back before switching flanks. His reading of the game, calmness in possession and defensive nous have made him seem ageless. Those qualities are summed up by the staggering statistic that Lahm has never been sent off in his 501 games for Bayern.

Adaptability the key to longevity

The fact he has been a pivotal player for coaches as diverse as Jupp Heynckes, Louis van Gaal and Pep Guardiola speaks to the universally high esteem in which he's held. It was under Guardiola that Lahm took the opposite route to most players approaching their thirties and moved forwards in to midfield. Of course, he excelled.

"Philipp Lahm is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career. He is at another level," the notoriously difficult to please Guardiola said in 2013.

Philipp Lahm WM 2014 Siegesfeier
Lahm was a key figure when Germany won the 2014 World CupImage: ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images

The single mindedness that Lahm showed in retiring from international football on the biggest high of them all - after winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil - has been demonstrated once again. It was widely expected that he would join the Bayern hierarchy when his playing career ended but, despite pronouncements over the past few months from other Bayern grandees, the 33-year-old trod his own path.

"There were discussions, but at the end of those discussions I decided myself that this is not the best time for me," he said on Tuesday. That typically diplomatic and forthright utterance led Uli Hoeness to say on Wednesday that the door was always open for Lahm at Bayern, despite the president's surprise at the timing of the announcement.

A player that knows when the time is right

There will be many at the club who think it's not the best time for Lahm to retire from playing either but he is a man who rarely makes a wrong move. As such, there's little suggestion his focus will waver as he chases an eighth league title, seventh German Cup and second Champions League with his beloved Bayern.

Fußball Bundesliga Bayern München - Werder Bremen Torjubel Lahm
Thomas Müller (l) will become one of just two youth products in Bayern's first teamImage: Reuters/M. Rehle

His retirement will leave Thomas Müller and David Alaba as the only high profile youth graduate of Germany's biggest club and is bound to leave something of a spiritual hole at Bayern.

For Lahm, it's unclear what follows the end of the season. Whether it's coaching, a board position elsewhere or something completely different, there's little doubt this most impressive of footballers will succeed.