Why You'll Like Him
He’s not Michael Ballack (if you’re not a Germany fan).
Why You'll Hate Him
He’s not Michael Ballack (if you’re a Germany fan).
When Kevin-Prince Boateng slammed into Michael Ballack during the FA Cup Final between Portsmouth and Chelsea, an entire nation held their breath as they waited for the results of Ballack’s ankle scan. After 24 hours, most of the German supporters had passed out due to lack of oxygen, which at least spared them the pain of hearing that their captain wouldn’t be going to the World Cup. Yet while the German fanbase plotted revenge against Ghana, one man stepped quietly forward to accept the captain’s armband: Philipp Lahm.
Lahm has been a quietly fantastic presence for Germany since his under-19 debut, and has 64 appearances with die Mannschaft (The Team) on his resume. But pass him on the street and you will likely not realize that he’s now burdened with the hopes of a nation. At 5’7", with spiky blonde hair and wide-set eyes, he looks like one of my teenage band idols, not like a man hoping to lift a World Cup trophy.
Or, at least, hoping to reach the semi-finals, as he said to the press earlier this week. The pragmatic Lahm realizes that his squad have lost five men (in addition to Ballack, the casualty list reads Heiko Westermann, Rene Adler, Simon Rolfes and Christian Trasch) and find themselves in a tough Group D. While Philipp may be modest about his team’s chances, he shouldn’t be humble about his contribution to the squad. His "Magic Dwarf" nickname may not be politically correct, but his style of play sometimes borders on the supernatural.
Appearing slight and inoffensive, the defender is often overlooked as a threat in Germany’s attacking force—yet with his impressive speed and skillful shooting abilities, he often makes his presence known, usually to the detriment of the other team. But unlike many defenders prone to assuming an attacking role, Lahm can track back quickly enough to make sure that no holes are left in the back line.
Position: Full back (He can play on either the left or the right)
Club Teams: VfB Stuttgart (loan, 2003-2005), Bayern Munich (2005-present)
National Team Debut: February 18, 2004 against Croatia
World Cup(s): 2006
Philipp is a picture-perfect portrait of club loyalty…except when he’s giving interviews criticizing the policies of said club and its coach. Lahm started his professional career at age 11, with the Bayern Munich Junior Team, and save for a brief loan period with VfB Stuttgart, has stayed with Bayern. While he may speak candidly about the club, he has made it clear that he is committed to the team responsible for his development.
Although Lahm originally played at right-back and even in midfield, with Stuttgart he developed his abilities at left-back. Left-back remains his default position, although he has stated that he prefers the right, and is still able to be used on the other side of the field.
With Lahm at the back, Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga four times, the German DFB Cup four times, and the German League Cup once. In addition, Philipp helped steer his squad to the Champions League final this year, although they weren’t able to overcome Inter Milan to win the treble.
In 2006, Philipp Lahm scored the opening goal of the World Cup, which is all the more impressive when you remember that he’s a defender. Germany were the hosts last time around and the squad finished in third place with a win over Portugal. Lahm’s performances resulted in his nomination for 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year.
In Euro 2008 Germany came even closer to the trophy. Lahm played every game in the tournament and even exhibited his fluency between positions, beginning as a right back and then moving to left back. He also reminded the world of his attacking abilities when he scored the winning goal against Turkey in the 90th minute of the semi-final. Alas, in the final against Spain, Lahm allowed Fernando Torres past him, where Torres found a Xavi pass to knock to the far post. With this standing as the only goal, giving Spain the championship, Lahm likely has this moment burned in his brain and will not let the same circumstance occur should Spain and Germany meet in South Africa.
In this year’s qualification play, Lahm was the only player to feature in all 90 minutes in all ten matches for Germany. die Mannschaft emerged from qualifying with eight wins and two draws—both to Finland, who won’t be at the World Cup this year. The defensive masters allowed only five goals in all ten games.
What to Look For
Intelligent play and a fast pace. Lahm absolutely shatters the stereotypes that defenders are meant to be large and physically intimidating, but he’s still able to demonstrate strength one-on-one and win possession of the ball.
You’ll see him zipping up and down the field, often cutting in from the left to slice a ball through the center. You might also keep an eye out for Lahm in midfield. With the Germans losing their players left and right, Joachim Löw has very few options available on his bench. With his versatility, Lahm just might find himself filling a midfield role.
With her versatility, you just might Kirsten Schlewitz contributing to SB Nation Soccer during World Cup 2010 in addition to covering Aston Villa at 7500 to Holte.
For more World Cup coverage, visit the Dirty Tackle blog from our partners at Yahoo!