32 players to watch, December 2009

Player To Watch #25: Philipp Lahm

Number 25: Philipp Lahm

Position: Sideback/Defender

Country: Germany

Club Team: Captain, Bayern Munich FC, German Bundesliga

American Professional Athlete “Soulmate”: Jonathan Toews, Center/Captain, Chicago Blackhawks, NHL

A gifted screenwriter would be troubled to begin a character sketch better than the following two offerings.

First, imagine a good-looking, well-spoken twenty-six year old. He’s a gifted athlete, and not just in any sport, but at the one sport his country sleeps, eats, and breathes. Our character has a unique skill set at that sport, one that most at his position only dream was part of their game. He could have any woman he wants in a country renowned for beautiful women, but he chooses to let that pass—after all, he’s already blessed with one of the most beautiful women in the country on his arm.

He’s a born leader, one that people gravitate towards. He knows it, too. That’s why he isn’t afraid to say the things that you just don’t say, damn the consequences. That’s part of his appeal—he’s a kid. He runs his mouth and plays video games religiously. He has two pet rabbits, of all the childish things. He’s been a star since he was a teenager. He knows that too—but handles it with class, grace and an eloquence not often seen in someone so young. His performance on the world’s largest stage at age 21 is already legendary—after all, it took the ice water in his veins and his incredibly special skill set to salvage his country from disaster:

On top of it all—he’s the captain of one of the most storied clubs in the history of his sport, and easily the most famous club in his country. All of this at twenty-six.  There’s a strong argument he is the best at his position in the universe, but this doesn’t impact him negatively and create complacency. Instead, he plays with high-energy, menacing the opposition with his quickness and calmness on the ball, as well as his passing ability, vision, and yes—even from his position—shooting the ball.

Our second character—his character sketch paints a similar story. Only twenty-one, he does things most of us did at 21—even occasionally hitting the beer bong.

Of course, at 21, unless we were Derek Jeter—we likely weren’t hitting the kegger and then logging onto the internet to find whole pages devoted to finding out if we have an exclusive girlfriend. Most of us aren’t playing a sport our country eats, breathes and sleeps professionally, and not simply playing, but playing better than most anyone currently playing the sport.

For this character, his talent is so immense that others who play his position and have for much longer understand they will never have the unique skill-set that give this twenty-one year old a shot at being one of the games all-timers.  After all, centers in his sport often score goals and lead teams, and we’ve seen many that are lavishly blessed with skill. Most don’t supplement skill with an attitude they literally learned skating on a pond in the backyard, defend tenaciously and do the dirty-work that wins sixteen games as spring turns to summer.

Above all, you don’t often…check that… you never… see 21 year olds in the sport our second character captain one of the six original teams in the greatest league in the world.  And if that isn’t remarkable enough—you just about never (see Gretzky, Sid the Kid) see a 21 year old captain the best team in the greatest league in the world, which as of right now, it is hard to argue the second character’s Chicago Blackhawks aren’t.

Heady stuff—but such is life for Bayern Munich FC captain and # 25 Player to Watch Philipp Lahm and his American-based, Canadian, Chicago Blackhawks captaining soulmate, Jonathan Toews. The latter will start a second all-star game in the coming month and has an “Oh by the way” date on home ice with his national team at the 2010 Vancouver games. The former will lead a German National Team that tends to show up at international tournaments and can never be counted out as a side capable of winning the whole tournament.

At 26, Lahm, like Toews, has the weight of the world on his shoulders and he seems to relish it. Don’t take our word for it? Ask Costa Rica or Turkey. Lahm’s thrilling goal against Costa Rica above in World Cup 2006 propelled Germany to a group win, and his shocking goal in stoppage time against Turkey vaulted the Germans to the Euro 08 Finals.

Don’t believe a soccer writer about Toews? Ask the Boston Bruins, who just a week and a half ago lost to Toews’ Blackhawks the other evening because Toews refused to allow his team to be bullied.

It is a great weight to deal with to be sure—and Lahm’s recent fine (linked above) for his criticism of his club demonstrate that he is not immune to pressure. Yet Lahm always seems to shine in the largest of lights, and if his recent quote, provided by Soccernet, is any indication—he’ll be worth watching as the Germans take to the field in South Africa:

“We are certainly among the countries who can challenge for the title. As the third-placed team from 2006 and runners-up from Euro 2008 our aim is to reach the final and win the cup.” Philipp Lahm, October 2009

Neil W. Blackmon

  • Reach the final and win the cup.. Germany.. pshaw, those cats never make any noise in big soccer tourneys. USA, please advance out of the group and AVOID THE GERMANS in the round of 16. Please.

  • Neil

    Guffaw !!