Bayern Munich are probably the best team in the world. That much is a given. And within that team are a number of top footballers who know no equal across Europe. Manuel Neuer in goal, Bastian Schweinsteiger in central midfield or David Alaba at left-back, yet no player comes close when it comes to Philipp Lahm. He is Bayern Munich captain and one of the best players in the world.
Despite making it in the team of the tournament in both of the last World Cups in 2006 and 2010, the UEFA Team of the Tournament in 2008 and 2012 and the UEFA Team of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2012, Lahm has never truly been considered for what many perceive as the greatest individual honour for any player in the modern game: the Ballon d'Or.
Of course such a travesty is indicative of all defenders, as they unfairly miss out each year to their flashier, headline-catching counterparts. But surely now must be the time to consider this Bayern legend in the making and allow him to finally stand on the same podium as Messi, Ronaldo and the like?
The initial and easiest compliment one could make of Lahm is that he is quite simply one of the best full-backs in world football. However, such a claim would seem almost patronising to a player with such obvious, universal abilities.
Bayern broke all sorts of records with their defensive stability—a rock upon which former coach Jupp Heynckes was able to build upon to such great success—and that was in no small part due to Lahm's ability as a right-back but also his influence as a leader.
Like any great side, Bayern have a whole host of driven players. Lahm's ability to not only captain his club side but that of the national team too—an international roster that many argue has no equal ahead of the coming World Cup this summer—is a testament to his character and ability to demand respect. Whether in the white and black of Die Mannschaft or the dark red of Die Roten, Lahm is always the first man out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a true example to every player.
Yet it wasn't just Lahm's ability to straighten out a back line that made him stand out from the crowd. Long before Pep Guardiola even considered a move to Bayern, Heynckes was well aware of the German international's ability to start attacking plays even while playing at right-back.
Last season Bayern played with something of a 4-2-3-1 formation that had Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez performing the role of a double-pivot in central midfield, yet more often than not we found Lahm actually cutting inside to such an area of the pitch, as opposed to hugging the touchline like a conventional full-back, and almost becoming something of a third midfielder.
Such behaviour then lent itself to obvious conclusions when the defender would often find himself at the top of the passing stats after most games, if not slightly behind playmaker-in-chief Schweinsteiger.
Yet such a bizarre role wasn't all for nothing. Last season Lahm finished the campaign with a treble worth of trophies and 19 assists in 47 games. A stat that suggests that the full-back—yes, the defender—helped directly create just under one goal per game.
It should, then, come as no surprise that one of Guardiola's first tasks when moving to Munich was convincing the defender that his future lied in playing a more central role for the side. The new coach had seen what Heynckes knew all along, and he wanted to make the most of it.
Of course the most valuable part of Lahm's game is his impeccable ability to read the match as it is happening in front of him. His skill isn't his sheer pace like that of Dani Alves or his tackling like Sergio Ramos, but his ability to be in the right place at the right time. It's why he's been able to thrive at one of the most demanding sports in the world despite being no taller, stronger or faster than your average man.
Throughout each game Guardiola is often seen constantly shouting instructions at his side. He's a perfectionist. His training regimes in Bavaria are notoriously complicated, and as we watch him from game to game it's easy to tell that he is with his side from one motion to the next. Each player is in that specific position to play a certain role, and if they can't perform that task to a certain mental degree they are no good.
As such it should come as no surprise that Pep and his newly appointed chief defensive midfielder get on so well. The perfectionist has finally found the player who can see and predict the game perfectly. Lahm is the quintessential tool in Guardiola's system, and that makes him arguably the most important player at the club.
To consider Lahm as one of the best players in the world, we must accept the blatant fact that football is no longer a simple matter of physical dominance between one side and the next. Ronaldo may be six foot of muscle, and Ribery may be finely tuned to control the football with perfection, but Messi is something of an anomaly because he looks like a child among men while outplaying them all on centre stage.
Such ability to allow one's mental skills to overcome the physical attributes of others is a skill that has made Messi the best player in the world. He doesn't beat a man because he's faster or stronger than any given defender, he does it because he's smarter. Such a skill has long been the cornerstone of Lahm's entire game, and it's why we must now consider the Bayern player among the best.
Guardiola and his new club sit atop of the Bundesliga and look set to confidently challenge in the Champions League once again as Bayern enjoy some of the best years in their modern history. Such successes come through great managers and great players. Bayern Munich are the best football team in the world at the moment, and that is in no small part down to one of the best players in the world, Philipp Lahm.
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