The Legend of the ‘Magic Dwarf’

“The loose ball is picked up on the left side by Philip Lahm. A scent of a chance – AND THE COSTA RICA GOALKEEPER IS BEATEN.”

A young Philip Lahm curled a most beautiful shot past the Costa Rica defense from just inside the far corner of the penalty box – announcing his arrival on the world football scene. Lahm has never looked back since then – having gone on to win every major trophy for club and country. Lahm retires not only as a Bayern and German legend but as one of the greatest ever to grace the game.

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Lahm has been an integral part of the machine that has written incredible success stories for German football for a decade and more. He has been irreplaceable ever since he found his place in both the FC Bayern and German National first XI. The often underrated Phillip Lahm is not only one of the best full backs of all times but also as the most intelligent player of his generation.

That Lahm was destined for great things was evident to all his coaches in youth teams. Hermann HumLahm 4mels, one of his youth team coaches even went on to state that “if Lahm doesn’t make it to the Bundesliga, no one will anymore.” The credit for discovering this gem of a footballer is given to Jan Pienta – who scouted Lahm into the Bayern Munich youth system. Lahm won the youth Bundesliga two times, the second as captain of the team. Even back then Lahm displayed his immense versatility, playing as a fullback, holding midfielder and a wide midfielder. Lahm played more as an attacking midfielder in his developing years. Lahm’s idol back then was Mehmet Scholl – a Bayern legend. However, when his club needed him, he started playing as a fullback – taking to his defensive hero and one of the biggest names in football history – Paolo Maldini.

Lahm was loLahm 2aned out to VfB Stuttgart early in his career at Bayern (2003-04 and 2004-05) to develop with more first team football. Lahm quickly caught the eye of none other than Felix Magath. Quite soon Lahm had replaced German international Heiko Gerber to the left back position at Stuttgart. At the end of the season, the young footballer was voted as the second best footballer in Germany.

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A young Philip Lahm proving his mettle on the European stage.

An injury in 2005 set bLahm 5ack his exponential growth as a footballer for a while – but Lahm was not one to ever give up. Steely and determined, the magic dwarf fought his way back to the first team and in style. Lahm’s incredible fitness and stamina allowed him to play all 34 matches in the 2006-07 season for Bayern and even 9 out of the 10 Champions League matches. On 20th August 2006 Lahm scored his first goal for Bayern.

Given Bayern’s poor style of play and lackluster performances in Europe, Lahm, like his compatriot Schweinsteiger was on the verge of leaving Bayern. It is no surprise that Lahm’s immense quality attracted interest from European giants Manchester United and FC Barcelona. However again it was Uli Hoeness, the club’s president (and the driving force behind Bayern’s rise on the European scene since 2009) who kept Lahm at Bayern promising to build a team that would challenge in Europe.

The 2009-19 season under Luis Van Gaal has been described as the turning point in Bayern’s fortunes by most fans and experts. Luis Van Gaal might have drawn mixed reactions during his stay at the club and elsewhere – but his contribution in creating this dominating Bayern side of today can’t be ignored. He put Lahm in his favored Right back position where Lahm has cemented himself as the world’s best (some could even argue – the best in football history). Lahm’s partnership with Arjen Robben on the right flank has been terrorizing defenses all through Europe ever since then.
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Probably modern football’s most dangerous right flank duo celebrate yet another goal.

After Mark Van Bommel departed the club at the end of the 2010-11 season – Lahm was given the captaincy of Bayern. Under the brilliant Jupp Hyenckes, Lahm has since then led Bayern to the club’s first and only treble winning season in 2012-13. The team led by Lahm has been described by fans, experts and FC Bayern Legends themselves as the greatest Bayern side ever.

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Lahm is definitely, one of the greatest players of this generation. His breathtakingly precise to the fraction of a second slide tackles, extraordinary reading of the game, pace, immense stamina, ball control, vision and an ability to curl in wicked crosses into the box make him a player too difficult to handle for any team in the world. His overlapping runs are a joy to behold. Lahm is the gold standard not only as a fullback but as a complete footballer.

A video compilation of some of Lahm’s best slide tackles.

Lahm has been described by Pep Guardiola as the “most intelligent” footballer that he has worked with. Putting that against the fact that Pep has managed Messi, Iniesta and Xavi speaks volumes about Lahm’s quality. Lahm has hailed Pep Guardiola for helping him develop as a footballer even at the age of 30. Pep deployed Lahm in the role of a sole holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation and the results were extraordinary. Lahm made a record 134 successful passes with 100% accuracy in a 3-1 victory against Hertha Berlin, playing from the central midfield position.

Lahm is probaLahm 6bly as close to a complete footballer as this generation will ever witness.  One will find articles all over the internet and football tabloids detailing the many triumphs of ‘Mr. 100%’ following his retirement, but he is one such player whose contributions can’t be measured in stats alone. Lahm never scored a champions league goal in 114 appearances but his contribution has never been deniable. Amongst modern day footballers, Lahm stands in a class of his own.

How does one define Lahm? He has never been awarded a single red card in his long and illustrious playing career. He has won every trophy that was out there for him to win. He has made tackling and interceptions into an art. If Ronaldinho was the modern age magician of dribbles, attacking flair and ball skills – Lahm was the magician of tackles, game interpretation and support play. It is not easy to come to terms with his retirement for any Bayern fan, player or official. His is a role that can’t be replaced. One just has to see the effect his departure had on the quality of play of the German national team to understand the importance of this legend.

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The effect of having someone like Lahm on the team is not something you can simply put in words. His incredible stamina and pace allow him to make beautiful overlapping runs to help his wingers while also always coming back in time to make his one of a kind tackles or interceptions.

To watch Lahm, play and shine in every role he took on the field as well as a leader has been one of the greatest experiences if my life. Lahm and Schweinsteiger have been, and always will be what perfect footballers look like to me. It is hard to face the truth that the magic dwarf will not be darting down the right flank of the Bayern attack anymore or that I will no longer get to see the most perfect tackles this generation of football fans will ever get to see.

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Lahm – the captain – lifting the World Cup and UCL trophies – having led Bayern and Germany to their greatest moments in recent history.

In the end – I could say a lot of things about him but it doesn’t matter. Lahm – the name says it all. The best fullback, the best defender and the most intelligent player in modern football. A great leader and an exemplary footballer has ended his career and these few words will never do him justice – but so be it. For every moment of joy and awe that Lahm has given us – I believe it is an honour and the duty of every football fan to tell the new generation of football fans about one of the greatest to ever grace the beautiful game. A man who personified the beauty of football itself.

Danke Philip.

A nostalgic look at Lahm’s career – one of the greatest in the history of the beautiful game.

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