Speaking to Bild ahead of the weekend’s crunch Champions League final clash against domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund, Philipp Lahm has announced that his team are fully prepared to end years of hardship and misfortune and finally bring home the European title that has so eluded them to date.
It has been 12 years since the Bavarian giants held aloft that famous trophy, and for a club of their status and perceived magnitude, it has been a damaging hiatus. Few will have felt the absence of glory more than Lahm.
A local boy, Munich-born, he played for FT Gern Munchen before arriving at Bayern’s youth academy in 2001. He was still a teenager and on the fringes of the side’s B-team, back when Bayern last won the Champions League.
While he may have harboured hopes, if not expectations, of one day winning the title himself, he surely couldn’t have imagined that it would have taken his beloved club so long to return to the top of the mountain.
It’s not that Bayern have been in the wilderness. That fate has been, at times, reserved for their opponents at the weekend, Borussia Dortmund, who have endured a swift decline and then a steady rise since their maiden Champions League victory in 1997.
No, Bayern have continually challenged the upper echelons of European competition—a reality which has perhaps made their failure to win the 'big one' all the harder to bear.
In 2010, Lahm was playing right-back as Bayern were undone by two Diego Milito goals to hand the Champions League—and unparalleled glory—to Jose Mourinho. Two years layer, in the familiar confines of the Allianz Arena, he was once again on hand to witness Chelsea’s unlikely victory.
This was the final that hit Lahm, and his club, the hardest. To succumb first to a late equaliser, and then losing via the lottery of a penalty shootout, particularly in the team’s home stadium, was especially difficult to support.
Lahm, leading by example, stepped up to take the first penalty. His was dispatched with aplomb, but he had to watch on in desperation as first Ivica Olic and subsequently Bastian Schweinsteiger fluffed their lines.
Now, at the first opportunity, redemption beckons. A team that will remain ostensibly unchanged from that dire evening in Munich, now has the chance to right the wrongs of the past.
I doubt anyone will seek victory more than Bayern’s dynamic captain, their very own ‘Magic Dwarf’. Lahm will doubtless be primed to lead by example once more, come Saturday’s centrepiece occasion.
One of the key themes to have surrounded Bayern’s demolition of the competition in the Bundesliga, and of their run to the Champions League final this season, has been their indomitable team spirit. With the crux of the team having played together for several years, and with many young players having developed and matured with each other, there is a good interrelationship between the team’s personnel.
While the side is certainly filled with some “special characters” and charismatic performers, as Lahm himself remarked, I believe the captain should also take some credit for helping to foster such a wonderful team spirit within the squad. Perhaps this just indicates another of Lahm’s qualities.
He is quick to extol the virtues of hard work and endeavour and never misses an opportunity to keep his young teammates grounded and to concentrate their minds on the challenges of the future, rather than the achievements of the past.
Similarly, he is thoroughly conscious of the benefit of placing the team ahead of the individual and of recognising the advantage of unity and equality within a sporting outfit. The example directly ahead of him in the starting lineup, Arjen Robben, may be an exception to the principle, but togetherness and the absence of the ego has begun to bear fruit for both the German national team and Bayern Munich.
Relentlessly he approaches games with professionalism and focus. Still only 29 he is one of those players that feels like they have been around for years, and yet his consistency and value to the team suggests that he still has a lot further to go in a career that has regularly seen him considered among the world’s finest full-backs.
It’s sometimes easy to forget just what a valuable asset Lahm is. While the likes of Ribery, Robben and Mueller invariably steal the headlines—a list likely to be headlined by Mario Goetze moving forward—Lahm combines both solid defensive work with mature, progressive attacking play. With 11 assists, he is third in the Bundesliga chart for the season, beaten only by teammates Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller.
The club’s recent Bundesliga triumph was the first league title in two years, and the first since Lahm has been installed as captain. It was a hugely gratifying, not to mention cathartic, moment for players and club alike and could well herald a fresh start for Germany’s heavyweights.
With youngsters such as David Alaba, Holger Badstuber, Javi Martinez, Xherdan Shaqiri and Toni Kroos furnishing the squad, as well as the spectre of incoming boss Pep Guardiola, these are exciting times at Bayern Munich. Lahm, as possibly the strongest link to the club’s past, will continue to be the side’s elder statesman and their talismanic captain moving into the new era.
How valuable could it be, for player and club, to induct this revitalised age with a Champions League trophy?