Interview With German Captain Lahm 'We Have Become International'

Philipp Lahm, 26, the captain of the German national football team, talks to SPIEGEL about Germany's failure to make it to the World Cup final, his leadership style, the possible return of Michael Ballack and Chancellor Angela Merkel's emotional outbursts in the stadium.


SP IEGEL: Mr. Lahm, you are getting married in Munich on Wednesday, just a few days after Germany's last game in South Africa. Did you expect to be flying home earlier from the World Cup?

Lahm: No, I was aware of the quality of the team and that playing in the semifinals would be a realistic goal. And as far as the wedding goes, it was always clear to me that I would definitely be there on time.

SPIEGEL: Is the team coming?

Lahm: No, just the family and our closest friends. They include only one footballer, Andreas Ottl, who I've known for years. About 100 people are invited.

SPIEGEL: You seemed depressed when the dream of winning the World Cup was over. What were you thinking as you were walking alone around the pitch after the final whistle in the match against Spain?

Lahm: That it was a shame for the entire team, including the coaches and staff. You spend so many weeks together, and everyone is doing everything possible to achieve this victory. And then, within 90 minutes, everything falls apart.

SPIEGEL: Why did you stay on the field instead of going into the locker room right away after the final whistle?

Lahm: I wanted to feel the atmosphere a little longer. Besides, you can be alone on the field, but it's more difficult when you get into the locker room.

SPIEGEL: Did Spain run rings around the German team?

Lahm: Spain has a world-class team of players who have been playing together in this system for years. It's noticeable, everything worked like clockwork with them. But we lacked absolute confidence when attacking the Spaniards, the confidence that we could beat this major power if we took advantage of one of the few chances to score.

SPIEGEL: You are the captain. When you sense a lack of confidence in the team, are you able to do something about it on the field?

Lahm: You try to do it with body language. And you try to edge on the team by the way you play, for example, by taking control of the ball and moving it in the right direction, that is, showing them to move forward. Bastian Schweinsteiger does it exactly the same way as I do.

SPIEGEL: Would the team also have made it to the semifinal with Michael Ballack?

Lahm: It's pointless to talk about that. He wasn't available.

SPIEGEL: And the other way around?

Lahm: Would we have made it to the final with him? That's just as impossible to say.

SPIEGEL: Shortly before the game against Spain, you told journalists that you would like to keep the position of captain, which was awarded to you after Ballack's injury before the World Cup. There was talk in the media of a power struggle. Were you shocked by the fuss you created?

Lahm: A little surprised. There is no power struggle. So you like doing your job and you say that it's fun -- what's wrong with that? Now that I have my role on the field pretty much under control, I would like to take even more responsibility.

SPIEGEL: It seemed like it was staged, when you said that on the day Ballack left South Africa after visiting the team there, as if it had been arranged with the coach. Were you trying -- or were you told -- to send a message that the old leader was no longer welcome in the new team?

Lahm: No. Besides, I didn't find out until later that he was leaving on that day. The coach told me. What's the problem here? The only one who makes a decision like that is the national coach. And if he says that Michael's back on board, then Michael's back on board.

SPIEGEL: Team manager Oliver Bierhoff said that your comment was unnecessary at that point.

Lahm: It didn't make any difference to the team before the semifinal game. I was asked a question and I answered it honestly. In fact, I think it's a compliment to the team members when their captain says that he'd like to continue working with them. And one thing is clear: I want to continue having a responsibility and speaking my mind, regardless of whether I'm wearing the captain's armband.

SPIEGEL: Is Ballack coming back?

Lahm: Michael is a very, very good footballer. I can't say anything other than that or make any decisions.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps the coach will be looking at two applications for the position of captain soon, Ballack's and yours. Will it be a decision about a certain style?

Lahm: Maybe a choice between two styles of leadership. Every person is different and has a different take on leadership.

SPIEGEL: You tend to be the quieter type.

Lahm: A team is always like its captain. And the captain is like the team. My style is to have a lot of conversations. It's important to address many issues, especially on the training field. That's the style that suits me the best.

SPIEGEL: There was apparently some tension within the team at the 2008 European Championship. Some players complained about Ballack's harsh tone.

Lahm: That was a misrepresentation. The mood is always good when you're playing successfully. The only problem was that we weren't really playing good football at the time. Now, at the World Cup, we showed that we were enjoying the game and having fun. It changed the way people looked at the entire team and each individual player.

SPIEGEL: It's Joachim Löw's team. Why haven't you ever stated clearly that he should stay on as national coach?

Lahm: It's the same thing as it is with Michael Ballack. It isn't my job to make personnel decisions. The team likes the coach, otherwise it wouldn't harmonize as well and play such good football. That's all there is to say.

SPIEGEL: Löw doesn't have a new contract yet. Does it violate some players' code to speak out in favor of the coach, because it could seem as if you were chumming up to him?


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