On Tuesday, Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm announced his decision to retire at the end of the current Bundesliga season. The news surprised soccer fans across the globe, since Lahm is just 33 and is signed with Bayern through 2018.
If you somehow haven’t been paying attention and missed out on following the career of a German soccer legend, here’s the scoop on Lahm—and why fans are mourning his impending departure.
An unmatched talent
Lahm is known as one of the world’s greatest defenders, a hard-working and brilliant tactician whose quick thinking and precision tackling make for an imposing presence on the pitch despite his small frame—he stands just five-foot-seven. He’s also known for his versatility: The right-footed Munich native played as a left back early in his career before switching to the right side, and he’s also equally at home in midfield.
Discovered by Bayern as an 11-year-old, Lahm made his senior team debut in 2002. He joined Stuttgart for a two-year loan in 2003, but otherwise has only ever suited up for The Bavarians. He’s currently their longest-serving player.
Lahm’s 15-year professional career has brought him seven Bundesliga titles, six German Cups and a Champions League title. Thus far, he’s made 501 appearances for Bayern. Former manager Pep Guardiola once described him as “the only right back in the world who can dominate play from his position.”
On the world stage
Lahm earned 113 caps for Germany before retiring from international play after captaining his country to a World Cup title in 2014. He first wore the armband for Germany in 2010, when he was just 26 years old, and scored five goals for his country.
National team manager Joachim Low once described Lahm as a player with “natural authority [who] takes on responsibility, is communicative and is a natural leader.”
On Tuesday, shortly before Bayern Munich was set to face Wolfsburg in the German Cup’s Round of 16, the first report about Lahm’s retirement decision emerged. Once the match was over, Lahm confirmed the news.
While there was some speculation that Lahm might end his career early to take over the club’s vacant position of sporting director, his decision still comes as something of a surprise because, while he’s no longer young, he’s still an effective starter for Bayern.
Philipp Lahm to retire completely at the end of the season at age 33. Seems early, but what an amazing career.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) February 7, 2017
To give you an idea of how effective Lahm still is: In Tuesday’s match, which Bayern won 1–0, manager Carlo Ancelotti said his captain was “the best player on the pitch.”
“My leadership style is always to give everything every day, every training session, every game,” Lahm told reporters after the win, confirming his decision to end his career. “I believe I can still do that to the end of the season but not thereafter.”
Over the course of his luminous career, Lahm has received just 24 yellow cards, which is a remarkably low number for a defender. Just as impressive: Lahm has never been red-carded.
According to a story from the Associated Press, Bayern is interested in keeping Lahm around in some capacity. Lahm declined the sporting director role, for now, but it’s possible that he may accept the job down the road—thus giving the team its wish to keep the legend around.
Lahm had been in talks to take over the position of sporting director, vacant since Matthias Sammer stepped down for health reasons last July, but he indicated he will not be fulfilling the role in the short term.
“There were talks and after the talks I came to the decision that now is not the right time to get on board at Bayern,” Lahm said.
He had been the preferred candidate of Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and president Uli Hoeness.
Hoeness said the club had not been in contact with any other candidates for the position of sporting director and held out the possibility that Lahm could yet be convinced to take the role.