First of all, congratulations to Lahm, his team, the coaching stuff, Germany’s fans on the win against Denmark! I have to admit that I was very nervous. It looks like I just can’t watch these games calmly. I thought Lahm had a good game. (From the media, he got grades ‘3’ and ‘2.5’.) However, I have decided not to talk about today’s match but, instead, offer you a translation of the interview he gave to F.A.Z. It was conducted before today’s game, but there is only one question pertaining to the upcoming, at that moment, match. The rest of it touches upon other topics and is certainly worth reading.
Philipp Lahm: We Don’t Play Haphazardly Any Longer
June 16, 2012
Why are good fullbacks such a rarity in Germany, perhaps even in the world?
Philipp Lahm (PL): Because one has to have skills [quality], going both directions, defensively and offensively. And if we take, for example, a left-back who normally should be left-footed, there are even fewer of those.
What makes it so difficult, to find a top-level player for this position?
PL: One has to be very involved in the attack but also play well in the defense. Nowadays, the profile of a fullback is different from what it was 10-15 years ago. Back then, he was basically only a defender. Today one has to join the attack more.
Does your balance between the attack and defense change from game to game?
PL: Well, it is different when you play against Cristiano Ronaldo or a different type of player. He plays aggressively and has that special pace-dribbling that makes you act a bit more defensively. But all in all, not much changes.
If this continues, you’ll have to play in Lothar-Matthäus-age – nothing comes after that.
PL: Lothar played at the international level while being almost 40 years old. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to go any further. Okay, I feel fit, but also I’m already 28 and have a four-year contract with Bayern. In modern football, there have been many changes. At 20, I was already a regular player; now, I have 8 years of playing for the National Team and have already played in 5 tournaments. I’m the third oldest in the squad, Miro is by far the oldest (at 34). It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep playing at the top-level in old age.
In football nowadays, is the situation the same as it was for the ’68 generation*, i.e. do not trust anyone over 30?
PL: That’s about right, one only has to look at the set-up of our team. Talented players with great skills [high quality] are constantly coming in. Thus, it’s difficult for those who are older to keep up the pace. That must be said clearly. Back in the day, it was said that the perfect age for a football player was from 28 to 32 years old. Today, it’s a whole other story, as it lies between 24 and 30 years old, maybe 32.
*Historically, it has to do with the social movements in which many participants were students.
That’s what you just said, that you still somewhat got it.
PL: (laughs) With luck, I still have a few years.
In this tournament, how has the game of the back four changed since Mats Hummels started playing at centre-back?
PL: It hasn’t changed, that’s a good thing. The fact that we know how we want to play, that we have a system into which anyone can be incorporated – that distinguishes our team, that is our strength, hence we enthrall the spectators as well. In our team, everything is defined. Every player knows how the team wants to play, and so we play accordingly. The fact that there are still cases of hardship, e.g. Miroslav Klose or Per Mertesacker, it’s just the way it is.
And what are the constants in the defense nowadays?
PL: One talks a lot about the back four, but that’s the talk of the past. Today, it is no longer the case that the four players defend while the others are merely observing. Defending is a team sport, we’ve seen it in the case of Mario Gomez, the way he helps out in defense. Today, more than ever, it is important that defensive midfielders are there but also, as it was the case against the Netherlands, that the wingers help out in defense so that we don’t get ourselves in one-on-one situations against these many top offensive players. Otherwise, it becomes complicated. It is important that everyone stands next to each other, or it can get very difficult [to play] against the likes of Robben, Ronaldo, or Sneijder. And it is equally important that, while one of the defenders kicks the ball out with a header, the other three get themselves out of his way at that moment. Or, when I’m beaten in one-on-one situation, and a midfielder isn’t there, [it is important] that a center-back got my back. Those are little things, but you always have to practice them.
What extra does Hummels bring to the team?
PL: It’s difficult to compare players, and I certainly won’t compare anyone with Per. Per has a tremendous experience, but he had the bad luck to get injured before the tournament. What we have in our team in comparison with other teams is the robustness. We still have that German quality in us that allows us to be dynamic in duels, and Mats is that kind of player.
What will be necessary in the match against Denmark this Sunday?
PL: We must play as focused as in the first two games. In terms of the attack, we have to put more pressure. The maximum concentration is again called for in this match. And, of course, we won’t underestimate Denmark.
In this tournament, one talks a lot about the defense. The back four ought to benefit from the fact that the work in defense is so important this time as never before?
PL: That well may be. However, the important thing is the defense [itself]. One sees that it’s particularly difficult to make up for 0:1 in this tournament. In the match against the Netherlands, we had some luck as van Persie was given the first opportunity. One must not forget that. A chance like that can decide the outcome of a match. Earlier, in the match against Portugal, we were leading 1:0 and won with that same score. We know that we can have even more potential in the attack. But, while not being in top shape in our first game, it’s important that we reach it over the course of the tournament.
As a skilled defender, this attitude comes rather natural to you.
PL: I’m not the only one who finds that important; the coach does too. We have worked on the progress from year to year. It is clear now what our style is. We are obviously aware of the fact that we can play better football. But still, it’s fundamental how one plays in the defense.
And when you return home after the tournament, do you have a desire to play again on the left instead of playing on the right?
PL: I always put myself at the service of the team. But it’s not always easy to change, one can see that at times.
We want to know something about what your wishful thinking is on the matter.
PL: Quite frankly, it does not matter to me. In both cases, there are pros and cons. In terms of defending, I feel better at right-back, and in terms of attacking, my game looks more spectacular on the left.
What do you do with the back four when you play against the Spanish who have no striker?
PL: First, we must make sure we win against Denmark and advance into the next round. No doubt we have the quality to get to the last game of this tournament. Nevertheless, the matches in this tournament demonstrate that one has to take it one game at a time and carefully consider ever step.
The question aimed at the fact that one has to change the defensive tactics.
PL: We prepare for each opponent in particular, with his strengths and weaknesses. With regard to Spain, their match against Italy showed how one must play against them, i.e. we must close the midfield and stand closely together.
How much energy does this first round in the Group of Death require? More than at other tournaments?
PL: For me, the first match was the state of emergency. It was the most difficult match of my career. After five minutes into the game, I thought that I should ask to be substituted. I don’t know what was the matter: the humidity, the fact that I’d participated in only one friendly prior to that? I don’t know. In the match against the Netherlands, I had a better feeling despite the increased heat. Other than that, this round is not physically more demanding than any other.
You have mentioned the progress that has been made under Joachim Löw. What does it mean to you personally?
PL: I’ve gained a lot of experience thanks to this development. But I had already been a regular player prior to that. In addition, it was good for me to receive and take more responsibility from the coaching stuff and players. That’s a nice thing.
The National Team has so many good players who also have strong personalities. Does the role of a captain lose its meaning?
PL: The important thing is to maintain the team spirit. If I realize that someone falls out, not going along, my job is to reintegrate him. But we have many responsible players. I’m thinking about Sami Khedira or Mesut Özil, who have taken on more responsibility in the last two years. That’s good. One can also mention Lukas Podolski with his multiple international matches and his experience. We all feel a lot of responsibility.
Do you share the opinion that what is certain about this team is that they are more mature and calmer than in 2010?
PL: Exactly. The team is mature via individuals. The way we play isn’t just haphazard any longer; one can see it in crucial stages of a game that there is peace and serenity that one needs in order to win an important game. In terms of that, we are [now] one step further. Whether that brings us a title, one has to wait and see. There are still four, five teams that are difficult to beat. But in the last two years, we have a made a huge step [forward].
Is there a team that has impressed you?
PL: The Spaniards are, of course, dangerous, but also the Italians. They’ve got many things right. There are many dangerous opponents so that you can’t just march through the quarterfinals or semifinals. That’s hard work. Even though we have won the respect of others and are considered ones of the favorites, there is no guarantee that we’ll reach the final. However, we have the potential to achieve that.
It sounds like you believe the Germans could be in for it at last.
PL: That would be nice, at least that is certain.
(translation © unavis. It is strictly forbidden to use this translation without my permission.)