A power struggle has broken out in the German team ahead of Wednesday's World Cup semifinal against Spain after defender Philipp Lahm said he had no intention of handing the captaincy back to Michael Ballack, the playmaker who is missing the tournament because of injury.
"I would obviously like to keep the captain's armband," Lahm told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. "I enjoy the role a lot. So why should I give the position up voluntarily?" He went on to say, "if one does one's job on the pitch the way I am doing in my position, one wants more. One wants more responsibility. One wants to take care of everything. And that's the case with me now."
Lahm's statement is an open challenge to Ballack, who had been German captain since 2004 and who would have led the team in South Africa if he hadn't suffered a serious ankle injury in a tackle while playing for Chelsea in the English FA Cup final in May.
Germany coach Joachim Löw gave the captaincy to Lahm for the tournament. Löw has not come out in support of Ballack in the current debate and did not try to stop Lahm's comments from being published.
Ballack, who visited the national team to give them moral support ahead of Saturday's quarterfinal against Argentina, flew back to Germany on Monday night, two days ahead of Wednesday's crucial semifinal clash with Spain.
The German team doctor said Ballack's injury had been healing faster than expected and that he could now begin the next phase in his rehabilitation, for which he needed to be back in Germany.
But the sudden departure reinforced the impression of a rift in the team which most commentators say has played much better without Ballack.
The strong performances , including a 4-1 win over England and a 4-0 win over Argentina, have led to doubts whether Ballack has a future on the national team. Asked if the team still needs Ballack, Lahm told Bild: "It's not up to me to answer this question with a yes or a no."
Team manager Oliver Bierhoff criticized Lahm on Tuesday, saying the timing of his remarks ahead of an important match were "unfortunate."
"Philipp Lahm is the World Cup capitain and Michael Ballack is still the captain -- that's how we see it and that's how it was decided with the team council," Bierhoff told a news conference. He added that there was no discord in the team.