Germany captain Philipp Lahm has announced his retirement from international football. This was an unexpected announcement given that Lahm is only 30 years old and still very much at the top of his game, but a desire to end his international career after pulling off the ultimate achievement — captaining his country to a World Cup title — is understandable.
However, in Lahm's open letter about the decision, he explains that he made up his mind before this World Cup even began. Which brings us back to the question of why. And the answer is because he knew he would win the World Cup.
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has described Lahm as "the most intelligent player I have managed in my career." So it's well within reason to assume that at the age of eight (maybe eight and a half), Lahm mapped out his international career and then executed that plan to perfection. But winning the World Cup was not the ultimate goal. No — that would come after.
Now that the whole thing has played out, we can look back and pinpoint the key elements of Lahm's plot to achieve the one thing he wanted to do above all else.
Step 1: Become captain by any means necessary
Lahm was given the captain's armband when Michael Ballack suffered an injury shortly before the 2010 World Cup. At 26 years old, Lahm was the youngest player to captain Germany at a World Cup and he helped Germany to a second straight third-place finish. Ballack, then 33, believed that he would reclaim the armband once he was healthy. But after the tournament, Lahm said, "It is clear I would like to retain the captaincy. The job is a lot of fun for me. Why should I then voluntarily give up the role?!?" In other words: "You'll have to pry the velcro off my cold, dead bicep, old man."
Manager Jogi Low sided with Lahm and Ballack never played for Germany again.
Step 2: Don't win Euros before the World Cup
With Lahm as the undisputed leader of the German team, they once again reached the semifinals of a major tournament before losing to Italy at Euro 2012. This was good because what Lahm wanted to do would not have had the same impact after winning a European Championship as it would after winning the World Cup. Sometimes sacrifices must be made. This was one of them. Lahm knew this.
Step 3: Win the World Cup
This was the final piece of the puzzle for Lahm. It wasn't easy (except for the Brazil game), but he became the first German to lift the World Cup trophy in 24 years. Now there was nothing stopping him from completing his grand scheme.
Step 4: Make the dream a reality
In front of 400,000 adoring fans in Berlin, Lahm finally did what he had been plotting since he was a slightly smaller child of eight and a half (presumably). Concealed behind four teammates, Lahm solemnly walked the trophy out on the stage. And then the climax: they all theatrically fell away like a self-peeling banana to leave the captain triumphantly holding the World Cup trophy aloft all by himself.
This was what it was about all along. It's the only possible explanation. And now that Lahm has done it, international football no longer has a purpose for him. So, at the age of 30 and with Euro 2016 just two years away, he has dropped the mic and retired. Because how could you possible top that move with the European Cup?
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