'I've had time to enjoy the ending'

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There are players who change clubs so much during their career that in the end, even they themselves can’t remember all of them. Philipp Lahm is the complete opposite of that. Other than two formative years at Stuttgart from 2003 to 2005, he’s only played professional football for FC Bayern. On Saturday, the man born in Munich will hang up his boots. After the match against Freiburg he’ll receive the Bundesliga trophy and be showered with beer for one last time. And then the unique career of Philipp Lahm will become history.

He was in good spirits as he met up with the Bayern Magazine following one of his last ever training sessions at Säbener Straße. He spoke about the end of his time as a footballer, his future life and something that he definitely won’t miss: “Spaghetti Bolognese! In all seriousness.”

The interview with Philipp Lahm

Philipp, what will you be doing on 4 July this year?
Philipp Lahm:
“No idea. But in the context of the question I certainly know where I won’t be on this day: at Säbener Straße for the start of training…”

We see you’re still the centre of attention. It’s been creeping up slowly for a while now, then on Saturday your career will end. How spontaneous was your decision to retire, when did you reach the decision?
“It’s not something that happens overnight, it’s a process that takes place over a long period of time. I’m always reflecting and looking at whether I can still keep up. That’s how it came about. I retired from the national team with the feeling that it was the right time to call it a day after the tournament. And it’s the same now.”

How does it make itself felt?
“It’s small things. Eventually it becomes harder to endure midweek games, to recover and to get fit for the next game. Getting up the morning after a game is also not as easy as it used to be. The other thing is the feeling that I get every day on the training pitch. I’m captain of this team and I want to exemplify that, I want every single player to see me and know that I’m always giving 100%. I feel like I can’t always do that anymore, though. For example, I’m an ambitious person and I’ve always got annoyed when I lose in a training game. It always got to me. That’s not the case so much anymore and that was a sign for me that I was heading in the wrong direction.”

You said you wanted to experience your last few months “more consciously” – has that worked?
Yes it’s been very possible to do that in the last three weeks. Obviously I would’ve liked to have had another final; a big final in the Champions League or the DFB Cup would have been a nice way to end my career. On the other hand, it meant there was no pressure in the last few weeks. We sealed the title on Matchday 31 and since then I’ve been able to enjoy every training session, every training game, every match and everything else around. I've had more time to enjoy the ending.”

Have you already got a sense of what you’ll miss in the coming months?
“One thing I’ll definitely miss is being in a group every day. There’s a unique atmosphere and language in a dressing room. I’ll miss the staff, the whole team. I’ve been used to being in a team since I was five years old so that’s definitely something I’ll miss. And the banter in the dressing room. I’ve always enjoyed that.”

Is this team mentality also something you’ll take into your next career?
“I think I’ve done that throughout my football career. When I look at my managemen team, they’re a great team that really work together. It’s the same with the businesses I’m involved in. I’d always like to have a team that wants to work together successfully. There’s always going to be friction, that’s completely normal and you need it, but I come from a team sport and I think from a team point of view. Together you can better unite your strengths and balance out your weaknesses. I’ve always had this mentality in football and I carry it into other areas too.”

What have you got planned next? Will you have to 'distract' yourself with new things to do during the day?
“I’ll see. I’m looking forward to things like having breakfast together at the weekend, sitting down at the table on a Sunday and starting the day together. That’s something we don’t get to do most of the time because we’re travelling or we’re in recovery training. I’ll have to see how my life pans out and what happens from week to week. First of all I’ll go on holiday with my family and just live for the moment. But one day I will sit down and decide how I’m going to start this next chapter of my life. Then the days will slowly fill up again. There are so many different things I want to learn and get involved with, whether it’s marketing, digitalisation or sales. That will take up much more of my time in the future than it has done up to now. One of the reasons I got involved in businesses was so that I wasn’t suddenly at a loose end when I retire and instead had something meaningful to do. I want to get involved there and at the same I’ll have more time to spend on my charity.”

Do you already have a room with mementos from your career?
Lahm: “Yes there’s a small room with lots of mementos piled up – kits, medals, a few photos, a few boots. Strangely I only started collecting things after my son was born. When you have kids you probably keep more.”

Which kits have you collected? Are there any particularly 'valuable' ones?
“Kits from games which were special for me but also kits from other players. I’ve also sewn together some of the kits and made two chair covers out of them for that room. On the chairs there are players like Andi Ottl, Basti Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, as well as players like Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon who have been a constant presence throughout my career. That’s quite something for two chairs.”

And whose kit is on the seat area?
“I’m not revealing that!” (laughs loudly)

Other than the big finals, is there a game that has stayed with you for a particular reason?
“I often think back to my first title, the U19 final in 2001. We were major underdogs against Leverkusen but we won the game 3-2 and became German champions. That was special. There’s also my first Champions League appearance for Bayern in November 2002 against Lens, which was my first senior appearance. I came on for Markus Feulner shortly before the end of the match and even had a touch of the ball. That was fantastic. I could list more: the Champions League game against Manchester United for Stuttgart. We pulled off a sensational 2-1 win at home and I started. And of course I’ll never forget my international debut. February 2004, I’d been a professional for half a year, got called up to the national team and then started. I could list lots of others…”

You’ve worked with so many players and coaches during my career – who has left the biggest impression on you?
“Every teammate and every coach leaves some sort of impression on you, and not necessarily always a positive one. Sometimes I’ve even thought to myself I’m not going to be like that, I have a different approach. I’m 33 now and have been able to experience so much that I can take with me into my life after football. I’ve met so many interesting people – outside football too –, which other people can only dream of.”

Are there any footballing decisions that, looking back, you regret?
“I can’t change things now anyway but I think I’ve always acted in the best knowledge and faith. All the decisions I’ve made were right for me at that moment.”

What’s been the most difficult situation you’ve had to handle as captain?
“There were two crucial phases. One in 2012 after losing in the Champions League final. Lifting the team back up after that was extremely hard and took a while. In 2013 after we won the treble it was precisely the opposite. After the change of coach it was about supporting Pep and making it clear to everyone that a change was needed if we wanted to continue having success. That wasn’t easy at the time either.”

A great career comes with a lot of sacrifice. Which sacrifices have been the hardest for you to bear?
“Special occasions like birthdays or wedding which I couldn’t go to or my wife had to go to by herself. The worst thing is when my friends arrange things far in advance to fit in with the season – and then at the last minute something changes. That’s always hurt me a bit.”

After almost 20 years at the top level of sport, is there anything you can no longer stand the sight of?
“Spaghetti Bolognese! In all seriousness. It’s unbelievable how much the food has changed but up until a few years ago it looked the same almost every day: pasta with tomato sauce or bolognese, maybe a bit of meat in there and a green salad – that was it. There wasn’t much choice. My wife knows that when I’m at home, there’s no Spaghettti Bolognese (laughs). But maybe I’ll be able to go back to it long after my career’s ended.”

The fans will soon no longer get to see a classic piece of FC Bayern play: Arjen Robben has the ball on the wing, cuts inside…
Lahm: “…and then comes the slow old man from behind wanting the ball!” (laughs)

Do you have any idea how many times you’ve run behind Arjen over the years – and how many kilometres you’ve run ‘for nothing’?
“I’d like to see that statistic! But joking aside, obviously we’ve tried that a lot and over the years we’ve refined it. The longer you play together the better you get to know the movement of the other player. That was the case in the early years with Franck Ribéry on the left and recently with Arjen on the right. Both of them have learned with time when and with what distance and speed I’ll be overlapping them.”

You didn’t look as well practised when you went to the fence to lead the 'Humba' victory chants after the title-winning game at Wolfsburg.
Lahm: “I looked a bit stiff, I know. I don’t like being the centre of attention but since the whole stand was chanting my name, the time had come for my debut at the fence. When the fans were singing my name, it gave me goosebumps like never before. That’s something special and shows me their respect for my performances.”

Respect is very good, because throughout history lots of players have been loudly adored by fans. How have you avoided that?
“That was never an issue for me because clearly people go to the stadium because they want to see a spectacle and not a boring 0-0 draw without any mistakes. I will go to the Arena as a fan in the future and would like to see action, so it seems perfectly normal to me that attacking players are more celebrated than defenders. But as I said, whenever I’ve spoken with fans I’ve always sensed big respect and that was important to me. The first match after I announced my retirement was in February at Ingolstadt. When I noticed the fans loudly chanting my name, I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I was.”

Can you rule out taking your coaching badges?
“I don’t know what’ll happen in ten years but at the moment I can’t imagine that I’ll ever want to be a coach. Standing on the pitch every day and going through the tiny details of the game – I don’t think that’s for me.”

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