Gerland: I wish he'd been my player for longer
Philipp Lahm will contest his final match on Saturday. The Bayern skipper is retiring after 22 years of passion and more than 500 appearances in Bayern colours. fcbayern.com is looking back on the native Bavarian's outstanding career on a daily basis until his last match. Today Hermann Gerland talks about Lahm.
The future head of the FC Bayern youth academy has had a decisive influence on Lahm's career. Gerland coached Lahm as a reserve from 2001 to 2003 before arranging a two-year loan spell with VfB Stuttgart. Gerland has been assistant coach of the pro squad since 2009, working with Lahm on the training ground on an almost daily basis.
Interview: Hermann Gerland
**Mr Gerland, you've accompanied Philipp Lahm for many years. Are you on first name terms?
Hermann Gerland: We're on first name terms.
Since I started working with the pros back in 2009.
But you've known Philipp Lahm much longer. When did he come to your attention for the first time?
In the summer of 2001. Philipp played for the U-19s then, but I promoted him because I needed a full-back for the reserves. I'd seen him play for the youths.
And he convinced you straightaway?
I still have strong memories of his first match for my team, when our reserves faced Burghausen in the Regionalliga Süd. We won 2-1, and Philipp played, well, as he always does: he turned in a flawless display.
And off the pitch?
Philipp was very mature at 17. To my knowledge he hasn't made any significant mistakes or attracted negative attention to this day. He was punctual, he worked hard. He's always trained outstandingly well, and he's never mouthed off about other players, neither in his youth nor today as a superstar. He gives young players advice, he's a role model. He's never lost touch with reality, as demonstrated by his social commitment via his foundation. Philipp has done an incredible job for all these years.
So he's a perfect player for any coach?
As reserves coach I enjoyed the two years with him, and I'd have liked to enjoy him longer. But it would have been disastrous not to let him play in the Bundesliga, it just wasn't possible. Arranging that wasn't easy. Renowned coaches declined until Felix Magath accepted.
Some Bundesliga clubs will have regretted it.
Two years ago I ran across a scout working for a Bundesliga club. I'd recommended Philipp to him back then. We talked, and he told me: 'I've watched Philipp Lahm and seen the same things you've seen, that he's an outstanding player. But my people didn't believe me.' That's a nice little story.
So he joined Stuttgart.
Philipp was able to play in the Champions League that way. After only three months he was the best man on the pitch against Manchester United, so Alex Ferguson wanted to sign him. That says it all. Philipp went on to win almost everything there was to win. He only failed to win the European championship. The only sad thing is that he hasn't been named Player of the Year, which I don't understand. Sure, Philipp doesn't play in a spectacular manner. But if he's sidestepped only once or plays a bad pass everone's asking: what's wrong with Philipp today? That's the mark of an extraordinary career.
In terms of height Philipp is smaller than many other players. In what ways has this influenced his style?
Philipp is very fleet-footed and hard-running, that was his advantage. And even though he isn't tall his jumping power is enormous, andhe's strong in the air.
So training headers at the pendulum has paid off.
Of course Philipp worked with the pendulum. All my reserves did, Mats Hummels too, he still does today.
What was your reaction when you learned Philipp would retire at the end of the season? Did you talk to him about it?
No. I only told him: 'Philipp, it doesn't count if you ask me. I'm watching you during training and in matches. You're performing at a top, top, top level. The fans will be sad. Your footsteps will be very big, your shoe size notwithstanding.' I always tell my players: play for as long as can, you have the best time of your life as a player, especially if you play football like he does. I think he could have continued at the highest level.
How sad will you be?
I'm always sad when players I've worked with leave or retire. It was the case with Basti Schweinsteiger, now it's going to be the case with Philipp. But he's made his decision, and I wish him all the best. He probably thinks: 'I'd better retire before everyone starts saying: Philipp should finish his career.' Now he can focus on his family. I hope he'll return to football in some form one day.
What's your impression of Philipp in the last few days of his active career?
He trains as he's always done. Maybe he'll notice after one or two months that he still wants to play.
He can call you then.
He's always welcome in the youth academy, he can join us in training. Perhaps the U-19s or the U-17s, or even the U-15s, he might fit in in terms of height (laughs). He should come if he feels like it. He's a very, very welcome guest. I think I'll invite him at some point to talk to our young players about his career.
Many legends have played for FC Bayern: Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthäus... How do you assess Philipp Lahm?
He's absolutely in the FC Bayern team of the century, on a par with the greatest players.
Do you think you'll work with a player like him again?
I'm told again and again there's a second Philipp Lahm whenever a talent is a bit smaller in terms of height. But if someone scores three goals that doesn't make him a Gerd Müller. There aren't many players like Philipp Lahm. He's exceptional.