Lahm’s Function: Thinking About Paul Breitner’s Interview to TZ

“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” ~ Baz Luhrmann, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

It is for a reason that I chose this quote from Baz Luhrmann’s song as an epigraph. We all like to give an advice and have our take on how things should be done. (I know I do.) It means talking about how something was done back then and what it meant back then. The question is whether something that, as we think, would have made more sense at that time actually makes sense now. In his interview to TZ, Paul Breitner, one of the most famous German football players, talks about his former club, that is FC Bayern, its current state of affairs, its staff, and so on.  He definitely presents his take on those issues. I would like to discuss his views pertaining to Lahm. (That part has a bit of reminiscing, hence Luhrmann’s quote.)  

Nowadays, who are the pillars of Bayern? Where does FC Bayern stand?

Breitner: In the team, I see that there is still a potential for development. We also have [so to speak] fixed points that help other [players] to orient themselves: Ribéry, Robben, Schweinsteiger, Lahm. Those are the fixed points that coordinate the game, mapping it out.

[…]

Last season the issue of a leading player was discussed a lot. How important is a captain to a team’s structure?

Breitner: Every team could care less who wears the captain’s armband. The players know to whom they can pass the ball in hopeless situations. But every team is grateful to have a person who figuratively wears the armband off the field, thus representing the team, deals with the PR, lays his head on the block. That reminds me of the last year of my professional career when I was also in charge on the pitch. If everything went well, then any of us could be on BR [public broadcasting authority of Bavaria] on Monday evening. However, if things were going badly, it was either Uli [Hoeneß] or I, who laid the head on the block. Philipp Lahm also does that wonderfully.

Who is otherwise the leader?

Breitner: Bastian Schweinsteiger, of course, but also someone like Arjen Robben who startles everyone with his incredible ambition over and over. […]

(my translation)

Thus, let us review what we have. Lahm is clearly one of the pillars of today’s Bayern, one of those who can “map out a game”. Please, correct me if I am wrong, but that does mean he is an important player. Now, according to Breitner, Lahm does the “media” thing wonderfully. (Not like somebody has not been yet convinced of that.) Nevertheless, when it comes to a leader, it is “Bastian Schweinsteiger, of course.” Following Breitner’s logic, Schweinsteiger is a player to whom other players are ready to pass the ball in hopeless situations. Well, that is great, but if Lahm is one of the pillars, and Breitner establishes that early on, does not that mean that other players can pass the ball to him, too, in hopeless situations? They certainly do. When Bayern was struggling during last season, Lahm was one of the few who tried to actively participate in changes on the field. Hence, why is he not a leading player?  Why is his performance sometimes taken for granted? Why does Breitner emphasize only the fact that Philipp deals with the media? It does reduce Lahm to just one function, and I am sure that is not the only reason why he is the captain. Why does Breitner, obviously, think that he, in his time, was able to perform both duties, that of a captain and that of a leading player, whereas Lahm is not? And, finally, what is a leading player? If a leading player is someone to whom other players can pass the ball in hopeless situations, I think Lahm has proved more than once that he is, indeed, a leading player.

In the end, it seems Lahm does not correspond to who, in Herr Breitner’s point of view, a captain/leading player should be. It is either following the stereotype that a leading player has to be a midfielder, or simply taking Lahm’s input for granted.

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7 comments

  1. hi…i’ve been following your blog and i do enjoy reading every line of it because i am a big fan of lahm, and so do you right.. so regarding this captaincy or leadership matter, it really has disturbed me since people became doubtful or skeptical about lahm’s ability to lead the team. my friend said that the reason of why mark van bommel left bayern was because van gaal wanted to name lahm as the first choice captain but bommel thought that schweinsteiger deserved to be the captain. was that true? i dont even know. then, i once read that the armband should be worn by a MIDFIELDER not a DEFENDER. i mean, that these two positions do not make any difference right? i mean a defender can lead the team, and i think people will never forget about how WONDERFUL lahm captained germany at the last year’s world cup until they wanted him to keep the armband instead of ballack.. then right now, why people started to loose their faith on him? it’s not fair..

    i just wish that lahm still holds the armband.. i believe he can do the very best for the team.

    by the way, i am from malaysia..:)

    1. I am also his fan. Well, as to your question about Mark Van Bommel’s departure, I think he left not because Van Gaal’s decision to name Lahm went against his opinion that Schweinsteiger would be a better one, but because Van Gaal wanted to strip him of the title (and his starting position as well) and give the captaincy to Lahm during the winter break. I think that can explain (as least partially) why Mark has been saying Schweinsteiger deserved to be captain over and over again.
      Well, I think people never hold strong faith in Lahm, partially because he is a short player with a babyface. He does not look like a traditional captain in their eyes. People sometimes can’t avoid judging a man by his look, which is quite unfair. He will definitely hold the armband as long as he can keep his starting place (both in Bayern and at the national team), but it requires his relentless hard work to disperse people’s doubts about his leadership qualities, e.g. motivating his teammates during the game, talking with the referee, speaking louder, etc. (the most important thing, to be captured by the camera when doing all these things, haha).
      It is difficult for a side-back to lead and guide a game on the pitch. But it does not matter. As long as he can be the leader in the locker room and command enough respect, it’s OK.

      1. @ jessie

        About Mark: huh… That’s a very interesting point of view. I haven’t thought about it. In fact, it makes me chuckle =)

        About the captaincy: I like that you use the word “traditional” when talking about captains. I have read a lot of comments, articles, etc., and it always surprises me that people have a certain perception of how a captain should look. A very ‘traditional’ one. In fact, I do not understand why it is a problem if Lahm looks like he is supposed to look at his age.

        “the most important thing, to be captured by the camera when doing all these things, haha” –

        This is BRILLIANT! That’s exactly the point ahaha You’re absolutely right. I’ve discovered that it’s pointless to try to convince people that the camera does not show everything. Moreover, when people state that Lahm doesn’t argue/talk with a ref, I always want to point out that talking/arguing with a ref does not do any good anyway. Lahm is just smart. (Not to mention that he actually does talk with them if and when it makes sense.) People never concentrate on other qualities that are important for a captain. For the most part, they talk about looks, screaming, waving hands, and yelling at a ref. Well, that’s a not a definition of a captain, from my point of view.
        I’ve seen an interview with Lahm, in which he debated (with a journalist) about what a captain should and shouldn’t do. That was stellar =))

        In any case, thank you very much for commenting and reading!

    2. @amal

      Hi =)

      Thank you very much for your kind words! I really appreciate it. It’s great to know that Lahm has fans in Malaysia. That’s awesome!

      I am not sure why Mark van Bommel left. I think he had some difficulties getting along with Louis van Gaal, which is not surprising because everyone knows that van Gaal has a very difficult character =))

      It disturbed me too when I was reading some skeptical comments from fans, and I didn’t think their arguments were strong enough. I mean, we all have our preferences, but there was plenty of hateful comments that I did not like. So, whatever… They can think whatever they want. That does not make it true ;)
      Besides, there are people who think that Lahm does his job well.

      Same as you, I, too, believe that he can give his best for the team.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  2. I found your blog like a week ago and like reading every line of your blog very much. Like you, I am a big fan of Philipp Lahm. I appreciate and admire his efforts to shoulder responsibilities for the team and I have every confidence that he will do an excellent job as captain, with regards to both PR and leader in the locker room.

    1. Hi =)

      Thank you very much! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. And thank you for your kind words about Lahm.

  3. […] if even Paul Breitner, who is not quite aboard the “new leadership” ship, understands the dynamics, it says […]

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