Philipp Lahm: A Very Silly Boy

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 MatthäusMein 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.

Philipp Lahm: A Very Silly Boy

7 thoughts on “Philipp Lahm: A Very Silly Boy

  • August 30, 2011 at 15:23

    I hear what you say about Lahm – he is a widely respected figure and perhaps this went to his head just a little bit. As I said, I am 50/50 on the whole thing – I believe in honesty being shown wherever possible and am not keen on “mafia silence” tactics but there is also the matter of what is and what is not appropriate. Of course, the last thing anyone wants to see is others covering up their failures.

    As an FCB fan I do actually agree about Klinsmann’s tactical abilities – or lack thereof – I was actually not too surprised when he was given the boot. As for Rudi, I will maintain that he was the only guy willing to take a job that at the time was more about creating a stability in the squad unit rather than concentrating on tactical efficiency; I dread to think what might have happened had the team, having suffered Ribbeck, found themselves under someone like Rehhagel or Magath.

    I have heard about Hagi’s disastrous foray into coaching, but I’d actually compare him to Matthäus – a bit of a hothead with a super-sized ego. I’d have loved to have seen the two of them on the touchline on opposite sides – they missed each other by a couple of years when Loddar took the Hungarian job, it would have really spiced up what was already a high-focus fixture!

    I have Toni’s book in paper form – I picked it up from an Amazon seller a few years ago. Until the point I found it, I had no idea that it has been released in English. No luck with Loddar’s Tagebuch though – that is something of an eye-opener I’m told.

  • August 30, 2011 at 13:47

    I can’t hide that I support Lahm in this matter cause even if it’s still young, he is an iconic figure at FC Bayern and also in Top 3 Left/Right Backs and 7-8 years of high-level career certainly don’t count for nothing.
    Plus the fact that…I don’t remember who said that ” Lahm broke an unwritten rule” . So what’s there then? A masonry or a mafia with unwritten rules? That’s what it seems anyway… those people are trying to cover their failures all the way.

    I don’t know about Rudi, but Klinsi seem to be more criticized from the fcbayern point of view, where I also could have bet that a disastrous season lies ahead.

    I’m from Romania, and Klinsman could well be compared with Hagi , an awesome footballer but a disastrous coach. The coaching success that Klinsman had came from Low, we all know that.

    PS: if you have Toni Schumacher’s book in electronic format I’ll be very interested about it.

  • August 29, 2011 at 20:10

    Can’t disagree with that – though I still feel uneasy at a young guy with no major tournament honours having a go at guys who have done it when it mattered, especially Rudi and Klinsi. I just hope Lahm doesn’t lose any of his well-earned respect over this among the older generation, because I like the guy.

    I agree, it would be good if the book was published in English… I am following a few forums and there may be some interest in it. I have a copy of Toni Schumacher’s lesser known autobiography so I can’t see why Lahm’s book cannot make it to print in English.

  • August 29, 2011 at 16:54

    i think he wasn’t as harsh as the media pictured him. Not to forget that bild is a tabloid, seeking sensational. The dfb reaction stands as evidence. I see this book more like a fact telling mixed with some personal thoughts rather than a book full of critics for everybody. As for working with those coaches in the future, i think those know or need to know how players think about them and be smart enough not to hold grudge on one or another cause all of them are far from perfection. If only this book had an english version…

  • August 29, 2011 at 14:54

    Thanks for the comment Bogdan.

    In truth I am actually 50/50 on this – yes, there’s nothing Lahm said that we really don’t know, but it’s the timing I think. Many of these coaches are still active, and is perhaps a little too much for someone who is still a young guy to open the door to inner workings of the dressing room, so to speak. Forgetting everything else, I do think commenting about the Euro 2008 campaign was sailing a little close to the wind, particularly that Jogi is still in charge.

    I must admit to being a long-time fan of Rudi and I do think that his more relaxed training methods were a reaction to the highly-regimented era of Erich Ribbeck; after all, he didn’t have to take a job that far more qualified coaches avoided like the plague. Continuing in the Ribbeck vein would have in all likelihood resulted in more back-biting, in-fighting and the possible alienation of some of the cliques that existed in the squad – which given the dearth of talent at the time would have been professional suicide.

    Of course, with so much talent at his disposal today Jogi can get shot of the trouble-makers and not risk a great deal – back in 2004 it would have been unthinkable to get shot of the likes of Frings, Kuranyi and more recently Ballack.

    It’s not really a case of waiting until it doesn’t matter any more – it’s more a matter of biding your time until you can make absolutely certain that these things can be viewed on an objective manner from all sides. It may also work against Lahm if he finds himself having to work with some of these coaches again.

    That said, I have not said that I wouldn’t be interested in reading what Lahm has to say.

  • August 29, 2011 at 14:08

    I really don’t agree!
    The only ones with the right of being upset are the ones he lied about… although I don’t think there are any.
    All those who retaliate know in their back of their minds that they’ve done wrong.
    It’s like when you’ve done something wrong or shameful and someone states it in public, the first thing that comes through your mind is to deny and retaliate. So did Voller & co.

    We all know that Van Gaal is stubborn, Klinsman is “Klumsy”, Magath is a hangman and so on. So what is the big fuss if those things are said by Lahm?! He put the eyes of the people into the big mud of football, so what’s wrong with that?

    Aren’t you the silly boys who judge him that way?

    “he could and should have left it under wraps until after the end of his career”

    This is the stupidest thing to say…WHY? Why telling something when it doesn’t matter anymore?

    The thing is, the book should be read from the beginning to the end and not judged by those Bild passages which are totally out of context.

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