Following Bayern’s win in the DBF-Cup, Andreas Hinkel, Lahm’s former teammate, wrote (read: dictated) an article for Der Tagesspiegel, reminiscing about the good old days in Stuttgart and talking about our right-back, who was, of course, not ours at the moment.
Before diving into it, I’d like to mention that, according to the jury of experts and readers of Der Tagesspiel, Lahm was voted (123 votes) the best right-back in the Bundesliga history. Although Berti Vogts, whose opinion on Lahm I posted some time ago, got 119 votes, it does not make me less excited. Hip-hip hooray! And free beer to those four people who made it possible for Lahm to win.
In any case, I was asked if I was going to translate this written piece, and my answer is this post. Happy reading, y’all! (My comments are in that purplish color.)
The Slender Man with a Strong Core
By Andreas Hinkel; recorded by Oliver Trust
In order to talk about Philipp Lahm, perhaps it is best to start with an unusual exercise. We must close our eyes to block out everything that comes to our mind along with pictures of the Champions League Finale 2013 against Borussia Dortmund and his matches for the National Team. There has been said a lot about what Philipp Lahm has achieved by now. And it is logical that everyone sees it as a great career because, ultimately, it is. Philipp Lahm, whom I met, was (yet) different. Back then it wasn’t less interesting. It’s an important chapter in his development that is often forgotten.
The roots of his breakthrough in the National Team and in Bayern lie, in fact, in VfB Stuttgart. Who knows how Philipp’s career would have turned out if he hadn’t been loaned by Bayern to us in Stuttgart in 2003.
I don’t think only about October 1, 2003, when we beat (2:1) Manchester United in the Champions League. He was there on that “magical night”, he played. There was no doubt that he would play. That alone shows how talented he was. He was 19, an amateur from Bayern, who had to develop [his skills]. In the end, it was the most successful loan in the history of Bundesliga, shaping Philipp’s career to a great extent.
When he arrived, no one really knew what he could do. That soon changed. The fact that our coach’s name was Felix Magath also played a part. He’s known for a hard preparation and hard training. Philipp coped with that without any problems. You have to, first of all, be able to manage that when you’re 19. In matches, just like during training, Philipp played without any concern, fresh, free and precise. What came in handy was his good preparation in Munich and his ability to recognize situations and present a solution that would benefit [us]. He had an enormous perseverance back then. He just stayed alert. There was practically never a moment when he would run out of breath or give up because something wasn’t working out. In the first year, he had a really good preparation and was soon on the team.
This actually reminds me of the last year’s final of the Champions League. The inhuman drive that he demonstrated, the huge force with which he was going and going, and going, and moving the game, and coming back to defend… I could feel it, although I wasn’t in the Allianz Arena but at the Olympiastadion. Some people call it passion when a player bangs on his chest with a fist or throws himself to the ground. What Lahm demonstrated that night is what I call passion. It was one of the most inspirational performances that I’ve seen from him or from any player, for that matter. All those qualities are still present, and that’s what, to a certain extent, makes him who he is.
He was a young fellow, rather slender. But he must have a strong inner core. Already in Stuttgart he demonstrated that he could fight his way through. The transition from being an amateur to a professional footballer is one of the most difficult in football. Stuttgart was the right environment for him.
I was 20 at the time, one year older. And we soon became important for VfB. The following scene describes it pretty well. During one of the sessions, Fernando Meira got up and asked, “What can we do for you to assist your game?” Yeah, we were important for the team, we, the young lads. Back then we played a system that rested on strong full-backs. A “diamond” in the midfield, and we had to move the game forward, supporting the attack with fast sprints.
Lahm’s Way of Playing Has Changed Because the Requirements Are Different Nowadays
Stuttgart’s system without a strong winger, which are now present at Bayern in the face of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, was also oriented towards players who perused as the “young guns”. In addition, something very decisive from his days in Stuttgart has influenced Philipp Lahm’s career, accompanying him years later as a shadow. The discussion on which side he plays: on the right or on the left?
Oh, yes, the famous discussion :)
Philipp actually came as a substitute [to play] on the right side, where I played. With a wink, I can say that I, thus, influenced Philipp’s career. I still stayed on the right, and he… Magath put him on the left. The fact that he made it there shows his immense talent. Moreover, [it demonstrates] his ambition and determination. Back then the height of a player was a much bigger deal than it is now. Philipp isn’t particularly tall, nevertheless [he] prevailed.
Brings me back to his book and how he writes about deciding to learn to anticipate the next move, knowing exactly what would be happening, and read the game, so that he could compensate for the fact that he wasn’t particularly tall.
Hence, Philipp learned how to play at right-back and at left-back in Stuttgart. The first match he played for the National Team, he played as a Stuttgarter in February 2004, in Split, Croatia. There was a gap at the position of a left-back in the National Team as well. The coach couldn’t select many candidates. And then Philipp was there.
He was at the right place at the right time. The change was about to happen, and he was there. And I mean it in a larger sense. He definitely was one of the first players to embody the change in German football.
Perhaps one can compare this situation with a car that, indeed, drives, has horsepower, but seems unimpressive and soon has to go to the technical inspection. Philipp Lahm came back to Bayern as a race car. He had established himself in the Bundesliga, prevailed in the Champions League and, more importantly, came back to his home town as a player of the National Team. That makes it much, much easier to start at a club like Bayern Munich. With a call-up to the National Team, the value of a player increases rapidly.
To be fair, there was no time for him to impress anyone. The full-back positions were occupied at that time, and Bayern simply wasn’t counting on Lahm. It’s not like he wasn’t impressive.
And another thing characterizes Philipp Lahm. The day on which he continued to lie [on the ground] after a training session in Stuttgart. He had suffered a cruciate ligament rupture. Nowadays, who can remember that Philipp Lahm had such a severe injury and made a come-back? Later on, his story helped me. I, too, had to get through the same injury and flew to the same person, Dr. Steadman, to have the operation in the USA. Seeing him overcoming it and continuing his career gave me courage.
Today his way of playing has changed. Bayern’s system is different, in which he has an absolute rocket before him. He still has the ability to accentuate the attack. The foundation was laid in Stuttgart. The often mentioned switch-play was the most important thing for a full-back. To move [fast] forward and then not be back in time, that didn’t work.
The last time we saw each other was in my last year as a professional footballer. He as a Bavarian, and I as a Freiburger. We didn’t talk about the past or about spending our evenings playing PlayStation many years ago, no, [we talked] about our kids and family. By that time, he was 29, and I’m almost 30.
(© translation unavis)