A twenty year long wait finally came to an end on July 13th when Philipp Lahm lifted the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Germany was ecstatic, relieved and looking forward to a future of success. With the likes of Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the engines of the German side over the past decade, still having at least four years in them it seemed unlikely that the Germans could be unsettled from their perch.
But all the joy and ecstasy of their triumph has now been overshadowed by the announcement of Lahm’s retirement from international football. It may be true that Germany won’t have much to worry about until EURO 2016 as qualification should be a cakewalk but the loss of their captain, the heart of this glorious German side, will be hard to deal with.
There isn’t an inkling doubt that this team is headed in the right direction. The excessive talent in attack will surely lead this team towards more glory but the void that has now been left by their captain will be next to impossible to fill. Schweinsteiger may take the captain’s armband from the gracious fullback but the calmness and composure that comes with Philipp Lahm will be irreplaceable.
There was also a utopian versatility that Lahm possessed. Deployed as a right back, a left back and a central midfielder over his career, the Bayern Munich star went about his job with minimal fuss. He carried out his duties with an unnerving efficiency.
Whether it was Schweinsteiger as a winger on the left in 2006, Lukas Podolski on the left in 2008 and 2012, young Thomas Müller on the right in 2010, or Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira in the center of midfield in 2014, Lahm had no difficulties when it came to adapting to his partners and forming memorable partnerships. Never complaining about his constant movement across the field over the years, Lahm grew into the most indispensible player for Germany. As the team evolved over the past decade, so did Lahm, in a manner that most others are incapable of.
The biggest problem for Germany is going to be replacing Lahm the right back. Schweinsteiger should be able to motivate and drive this team forward as captain, albeit in a manner different from Lahm. The German midfield never truly needed Lahm and shouldn’t face any troubles without him. Benedikt Höwedes, Marcel Schmelzer and Erik Durm will hopefully manage to plug the holes that they themselves create. But there is no real replacement on the right side of defense. Shifting Höwedes to the right is an option but his lack of attacking ability is a cause for worry. Also, there may be some inertia with regards to shifting Höwedes after a commendable World Cup campaign.
The other immediate option available is Borussia Dortmund’s Kevin Großkreutz. A cult hero in Dortmund, the 25-year-old will surely be seen as a feasible replacement by the BVB faithful but his experience as a full back is questionable. Good going forward and possessing endless stamina, Großkreutz is in some ways like Lahm. His versatility is another common feature with the departing captain. At the moment, the Dortmund darling seems the best option but the test of time will be his hardest test yet.
The lesser known trio of Tony Jantschke, Sebastian Jung and Oliver Sorg are the other probable candidates for the right back position. Jantschke has been a rock in the Borussia Mönchengladbach defense over the past few years but his recent shift to center back may not work in his favor. He is probably the most proven amongst the three as well.
Jung and Sorg have both performed really well for their respective clubs in the past two seasons but the lack of consistency of their clubs doesn’t help them. The former’s recent move to Wolfsburg, a side looking to make a mark in Europe, will be an advantage in his bid to make it to the German national team.
All of these 24-year-olds have a good chance of making it to the squad by the time Germany are ready for EURO 2016. They are all defensively sound, adept at going forward and have that defensive experience that Großkreutz lacks. The battle for the coveted spot will heat up as we get closer to EURO 2016 and the two club campaigns that lie in store will be the time to shine for these German hopefuls.
While there may be uncertainty regarding Germany’s next right back, there is absolutely no doubt that there will not be another Philipp Lahm. The intelligence, simplicity, quality and versatility of Lahm are beyond the capabilities of most other footballers. His leadership will be missed. His defensive abilities too. Even his intent when going forward. The void left by Lahm’s departure from the national team is immense.
The World Cup winning captain surely had at least two more years in him. It’s a decision that will hurt German football in the near future. But it has come with time on Germany’s side. The repercussions of losing Lahm will be felt, but only over a qualifying campaign through which German should have no serious problems.
By retiring at this time, Lahm not only leaves international football at the acme of success, but also allows Germany time to figure things out. At worst, Germany may have a weakness on the right side of defense when they go to France in a couple of years. Thanks to Lahm’s timing, Germany will probably have a solution by the time the world is ready for Russia 2018. Lahm has given Germany the most important goodbye gift – time.
A servant for Germany over the past decade and one even as he retires, there will never be another like Philipp Lahm. The world has been blessed to watch this gem of a man grace the football field. Luckily, we still get to watch him for Bayern Munich. Thank you for a wonderful decade in the colours of Die Nationalmannschaft!