All week Planet Futbol will delve into the SuperClub that is Bayern Munich, covering the German franchise's celebrated past and present while profiling some of its legendary players and biggest names. This is the fourth part of the series.
Last year, when Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola called Philipp Lahm the most intelligent player he had ever coached, more than a few eyebrows were raised in the soccer world. Really? Lahm was a terrific player, surely, and probably the world’s best right back, but Guardiola had coached a legendary outfit at Barcelona that included Xavi (the guy I would have suspected as his most intelligent player), Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
But no, Guardiola was adamant: Lahm was his man.
Even Lahm was surprised. “It’s great to hear this compliment from such a man like Pep Guardiola, who has coached so many great players in his time as a manager,” Lahm said through an interpreter. “But then I have to try and confirm that not in one game or 10 games but continuously over time.”
Then again, the transformation Lahm executed on the field last season was the kind that you might expect from a truly transcendent player. When Bayern was dealing with some injuries, Guardiola moved Lahm to central midfield. Few at the club could believe it. But Lahm handled the switch with the utmost poise, thriving at the new position and enjoying a mid-career kick-start at age 29.
And here’s the amazing thing: One year later, even though he played both right back and central midfield during Germany’s victorious World Cup run, Lahm says he now views himself as more of a midfielder than a fullback.
“I had played as a fullback for 10 years, and this was something new and exciting that made me more alert and awake again in a simply new experience,” Lahm, who will miss the next three months with a fractured ankle, says. “So currently I do feel more like a midfielder because I played more games in the midfield recently. It’s more fun in midfield. That’s not to say that playing right back is not fun. I think the World Cup proved that I can still play right back, and I enjoy it.”
Lahm’s longtime running mate, Bastian Schweinsteiger, had perhaps the most succinct description to explain Lahm’s intelligence.
“He always has a solution on the field,” says Schweinsteiger, who started with Bayern’s youth academy at age 14, compared to Lahm’s 11. “When I play with him in the midfield it’s no problem because we have known each other for 10 years now. But when you saw the World Cup, Philipp was playing in the right defender position. Our game changed a little. He was brilliant.”
Schweinsteiger laughed. “I think he is the best right defender, but he wants to play in the midfield.”
More than just about any other top club, Bayern has a history of former star players becoming club directors after their playing careers are done. For Bayern that has meant Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Since Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller have been with Bayern since they were children in the youth academy, Rummenigge predicts that they could stay with the club in the long term. But he puts Lahm ahead of the rest.
“We have some intelligent players who could follow us,” says Rummenigge, Bayern’s chairman. “Players like Lahm, the captain of our team and before that our national team. He’d be able to, but I don’t know what he wants to do. Maybe he coaches. Guardiola did say he’s the most intelligent player he has coached.”
There are worse things to have on your tombstone someday. But if you ask Lahm himself what he’ll do after his playing career, he smiles and shakes his head.
“It’s a little early to say,” he explains. “I’m 30 years old, but I still have four years on my contract. One way or another, I will stay in football, in whatever capacity, simply because it’s the love of the game. It’s my passion.”
GALLERY: Bayern Munich through the years
FC Bayern Munich Through the Years
A Munich gymnastics club refuses to let eleven of its members join the German Football Association, so those eleven form Bayern Munich as a standalone football club that same evening.
Franz Beckenbauer and Bayern Munich enter the Bundesliga for the first time, having been passed over for the initial collection of teams in favor of 1860 Munich. They win the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) in their first season and finish third in the league.
The club captures its first European trophy, winning the 1967 Winner's Cup with an extra-time victory over Glasgow Rangers.
Udo Lattek is hired as head coach. In two different stints in charge of the club, Lattek (seen here in '87) would coach for more days (over 3,000) and win more trophies (10) than any other coach in the club's history.
The club moves from the Grunwalder Stadion to the Olympiastadion, which had been built for the 1972 Summer Olympics. It would be Bayern's home for 35 years.
Bayern Munich defeats Schalke 5-1 in the first live televised match in Bundesliga history, winning that season's league title as a result.
The club wins its first European Cup (now Champions League), 4-0 over Atletico Madrid. It goes on to win the competition the subsequent two years as well.
The club signs Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. The striker would go on to score 162 goals for the club and is currently the CEO of the corporation that owns Bayern Munich.
The club wins its first international trophy, defeating Brazilian club Cruzeiro to win the Intercontinental Cup (now abolished).
Jupp Heynckes is hired as head coach. He would win two Bundesligas and two Super Cups.
Norwich City defeats Lothar Matthaus and Bayern Munich 2-1 at the Olympiastadion in the UEFA Cup (now Europa League), the only time a British club was able to defeat Bayern at its old home ground.
With Franz Beckenbauer as interim manager, Bayern wins the UEFA Cup final against Bordeaux, the only time they have won the competition.
Ottmar Hitzfeld is hired as head coach. He would go on to coach the second-most total games and win the second-most total honors in club history (both behind Uto Lattek).
Bayern loses the Champions League final in extra time to Manchester United.
Bayern wins its third consecutive Bundesliga title with a stoppage-time goal against Hamburg from Patrik Andersson on a rare free kick from inside the penalty area.
Bayern wins the Champions League after defeating Valencia on penalty kicks at the San Siro in Milan, Italy.
Bayern wins the Intercontinental Cup in extra time against Boca Juniors, thanks to a goal from Samuel Kuffour.
The club moves from the Olympiastadion to the newly-built Allianz Arena, which they share with local rivals 1860 Munich.
The club hires Jurgen Klinsmann (left) as head coach following his success with the German national team at the 2006 World Cup. He is fired 10 months later.
Bayern reaches the final of the Champions League in its home stadium, but loses on penalties to Chelsea. It is the first time the club is defeated by an English team in Munich.
Bayern Munich wins the Bundesliga with six games left, the earliest a champion has ever secured the title. Bayern also sets the record for most points in a season, most wins in a season, and fewest defeats.
Bayern wins the Champions League over rivals Borussia Dortmund with a 2-1 win at Wembley Stadium.
Bayern completes the first treble in German soccer history, winning the DFB-Pokal via a 3-2 triumph over Stuttgart.
Bayern ends a Bundesliga record 54-game stretch without losing by falling 1-0 to FC Augsburg.
Bayern breaks its own record, securing the Bundesliga title with seven matches remaining.
Club president Uli Hoeness, who had reigned since 1979, resigns after being convicted of tax fraud.
The club opens offices in the Unites States in an attempt to expand its international reach.
Robert Lewandowski holds up all five fingers–one for each goal he scored in a nine-minute span in a memorable 5-1 win over Bundesliga foe Wolfsburg.