If you’re as old as I am then, well, before all else, let me offer my condolences.
Second, you will also have been around long enough to know that world football (soccer) has changed over the decades.
For example, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when for most footballing nations the players from the most then-prominent of their domestic clubs would tend to also dominate the roster of that country’s national side, nearly in its entirety.
So, Italy’s national squad would largely be equivalent to that of Inter or AC Milan, and Ajax was the Netherlands, Argentina was River, etc.
All of that seemed to change when the French national side, featuring Zinedine Zidane (who played for Italian giants Juve), made plain the international character of the game at the 1998 World Cup finals and again at the Euro 2000.
A person could write a doctoral dissertation citing technological developments and international politics as a matter of fully explaining this change, but the simple fact is that it has changed.
All of which has likely made it that much harder for Germany and Bayern fans who are now seeing the backside of the recently retired Philipp Lahm.
Lahm has been the spirit, if not the face, of Germany, and of the Bundesliga for most of the past fifteen years. It is certainly hard to imagine Bayern’s latest run of 5 straight league titles in the absence of his leadership.
The question for Joachim Löw and Carlo Ancelotti as both look to defending their respective titles in 2018 is this: can Philipp Lahm be replaced?
In the first instance, the coach of Germany’s men’s national side has made his opinion on the subject pretty clear. He knows who will be playing Lahm’s position, at least for the duration of this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup, now on-going in Russia. (Although he does not guarantee the same will hold true for next summer’s World Cup finals.)
Yet while Joshua Kimmich seems like a natural to step into Lahm’s boots—both with Germany and at Bayern—he is, as his national team coach notes, still very young. Löw at least knows that he is not simply substituting a right-back. Lahm was a stabilizing presence on the field for Germany, he was also experienced and quick enough to be a threat on offense as well, and a World Cup winning skipper to boot.
For Ancelotti and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at Munich, the “Lahm problem” looms even larger as they try for a record 6th consecutive Bundesliga title.
Although Bayern are (for the time being) more than adequately stacked in terms of threat going forward—mainly with Robert Lewandowski, Arturo Vidal, Thomas Muller, and the ageless Arjen Robben—the club’s success last term included conceding far and away the fewest goals in the Bundesliga.
Their combination of offensive ruthlessness and defensive efficiency yielded a goal differential almost three times greater than any other team.
There is little doubt that Lahm was the leader on that side off the field. His retirement, coupled with the retirement of Xabi Alonso as well, makes Bayern’s 6th straight title a lot more uncertain.
On the other hand, if you are as old as I am—again, my condolences—you know that that uncertainty is a big part of what we love about this game.
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