Another autobiography, another round of controversy – this time from current skipper Philipp Lahm. Those of us who follow the German game closely will know that Lahm is an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful man who wears his heart on his sleeve and has an opinion – a man who is as no-nonsense in real life as he is on the football pitch. A man whose outspoken comments have in the past landed him in hot water. Well, he’s only gone and dropped himself in it again.
Just over a week before the important European Championship qualifier with Austria, selected excerpts of Lahm’s new autobiography Der feine Unterschied: Wie man heute Spitzenfussballer wird (“The subtle difference: How one becomes a top footballer today”) have been pre-published in the popular tabloid Bild – creating a furore that has elicited comments from a Lahm’s former coaches, team mates and the DFB itself. While Lahm appears to have steered clear of the sorts of lurid accusations that peppered Harald Schumacher’s controversial book Anpfiff (in English, “Blowing the Whistle”) or the petty sneering that could be found in Lothar Matthäus‘ Mein Tagebuch (“My Diary”), he provides a frank analysis of past coaches’ training regimes, focussing on the likes of Jürgen Klinsmann, Louis van Gaal, Felix Magath and Rudi Völler.
Perhaps the greatest criticism has been reserved for former Nationaltrainer Klinsmann, who has been described as little more than a “fitness coach” who lacked tactical awareness – which according to Lahm doomed his spell at Bayern right from the beginning. Lahm has also gone on to say that the real architect of the successful World Cup campaign in 2006 was not Klinsmann but Joachim Löw – but then most of us who know anything about the German game would have known that already.
Lahm has been no less critical about former Bayern coaches Louis van Gaal and Felix Magath: while Dutchman van Gaal finds himself accused of always wanting to “do what he wanted to do, his way”, Magath has been described as being too hard a taskmaster whose “pressure tactics” soon became predictable. Again, there’s nothing new here: van Gaal has over the years become well-known for his bloody-mindedness, while Magath has been known as “Quälix” – a play on his first name and quälen, the German word for “torture” – for some time now.
Some were quick off the mark in offering a rebuttal: Lahm’s FC Bayern München team mate Arjen Robben made a point of defending fellow Dutchman van Gaal, while former Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler – who presented Lahm with his first international cap against Croatia in 2004 – weighed into the debate with gusto and provided what was probably the strongest response, accusing the current Nationalmannschaftskapitän among other things of being “pitiful”, “impertinent” and “lacking decency”.
Lahm has described Völler’s training methods during the Euro 2004 campaign as “amazingly relaxed” and “funny, and totally random”, but once again this is not something we all didn’t know: Völler was not a professional coach and his more relaxed approach was almost certainly intended to be an antidote to the heavy-handedness of his predecessor Erich Ribbeck, whose training methods Lahm would not have experienced. Given that Völler didn’t actually have to take take a job that was at the time seen by many more illustrious and qualified candidates as a poisoned chalice, one can understand his indignation at what he sees as a silly young man’s impertinence.
Although probably now resigned to the fact that this drama will go the distance, Lahm was quick to offer an apology – quoted on the official DFB website – for any offence caused:
Ich wollte Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann und andere Personen selbstverständlich nicht persönlich treffen oder gar beleidigen. Das tut mir leid. Für Missverständnisse, die auf diese Weise entstanden sind, entschuldige ich mich hiermit bei allen Beteiligten. (“I did not want to personally offend Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann and other people of course. I’m sorry. For any misunderstandings that have arisen in this way, I hereby apologise to all those involved.”)
Here’s another version:
“I did not want to personally offend Rudi Völler, Jürgen Klinsmann and other people of course. Rather, I wanted to portray my honest opinion about the work under different coaches and different times and highlight some reasons behind these developments, as is clear from reading my book. This seems to me to be overshadowed in the current discussion. I am sorry. For misunderstandings that have arisen in this way, I hereby apologise to everyone involved.”
Lahm is likely to be called into a meeting with DFB supremos Wolfgang Niersbach and Dr. Theo Zwanziger, team general manager Oliver Bierhoff and Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw to explain himself, with the likely outcome being an official warning. Although he stated that Lahm had clearly “overstepped the mark”, Bierhoff confirmed that stripping him of the captaincy had not at any time been considered an option.
My own view? From what I know and have read about Philipp Lahm, he may be a straight talker but he is also far from being a Schumacher, Matthäus or an Effenberg. I seriously doubt that there is any genuine malice in what he has written, and I don’t think anyone should doubt the sincerity of his apology. However, while there may be much truth in what he has written, there is also a very fine line between what is genuinely informative and what is inappropriate. To wit, eine feine Unterschied.
If Philipp Lahm really felt he had something important to say, he could and should have left it under wraps until after the end of his career – when he would have had far more time to properly reflect on things and adopt a more considered and mature approach. In his haste to share these details he has clearly misjudged both his audience and the reaction, and in doing so has let himself down very badly.
In short, he has been a very silly boy.