Germany captain Philipp Lahm stunned his homeland on Friday by quitting international football at the age of 30, five days after leading his side to World Cup victory in Brazil.
“During last season I made a decision to end my international career after the World Cup,” Lahm wrote in an open letter on the German football federation website.
“I shared my decision with Germany coach Joachim Löw at breakfast on Monday. I am happy and thankful that the end of my national team career coincided with winning the World Cup in Brazil.
“I have been on holiday for the past three days and here have had the quiet and time to mentally come to terms with the end of my national team career. A heartfelt thank you for a wonderful time.”
Lahm’s decision came as a shock to German football federation (DFB) president Wolfgang Niersbach.
“Philipp called me this morning and personally told me the news,” Niersbach said. “Very quickly into the conversation I realised that it was futile to try to change his mind.
“He was not only an outstanding player in his ten years with the national team but always a perfect role model. I thanked him for all that he has done for the DFB.”
Lahm’s success and gravitas were such that even German chancellor Angela Merkel commented on his decision.
“I’d like to express my respect for what he achieved with the national team,” she said.
Lahm, who picked up the last of his 113 caps in the 1-0 World Cup final victory over Argentina on Sunday, will continue playing for club side Bayern Munich.
“There is hardly a better farewell than to be a world champion at the peak of your career,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said of Lahm’s
retirement on the club website
“But for the national team, it will not be easy to replace Lahm as a player, captain and a man.”
Despite the old adage that you should always go out at the top, Bayern acknowledged on their website that Lahm’s decision had taken them by surprise.
Many German fans also reacted with disbelief on Twitter given Lahm’s relatively young age to quit the international scene.
Germany’s dominant performance in Brazil, including a 7-1 thrashing of the hosts in the semi-finals, also suggested that an assault on Euro 2016 glory in France was well within their and Lahm’s reach.
Lahm was one of the top players in Brazil as he effortlessly switched between midfield and right-back. He barely made a mistake all month and was among the nominees for the player of the tournament award.
Lahm’s international career began at the age of 20 against Croatia in February 2004 and it was an impressive debut with influential German football magazine Kicker naming him man of the match.
Having appeared for the national team at every level from Under-17 to Under-21, he went on to play at Euro 2004, then two further European championships and three World Cups, starting with the Germans’ home tournament in 2006.
He scored the opening goal of that competition against Costa Rica and was captain for the other two, demonstrating his versatility by starting each of the three tournaments in a different position.
In 2006 he was left-back, in 2010 right-back and by the start of this year’s finals was in central midfield, the role Bayern Munich’s coach Pep Guardiola had moved him to.
Guardiola called Lahm the most intelligent player he had ever worked with and was not surprised to find his club captain adapting effortlessly to the role.
Löw was similarly impressed and shifted him there for Germany too –
despite repeated criticism and questioning of the move.
Captain of Germany since 2010 in succession to Michael Ballack, Lahm began the 2014 group matches in midfield but after a vulnerable defence conceded two goals in the draw against Ghana, he was moved to right-back for the quarter-final against France. The reorganised back four immediately looked more settled and Lahm rediscovered his ability to roam. From then on the team conceded only one goal in three games, scored in the last minute by a Brazil team already 7-0 down.
Like many before him – few of them World Cup winners – Lahm has now decided to concentrate on playing for his club, in his case the one he joined at 12 years of age.
The Bayern captain has also enjoyed a stellar career at club level during which the honours have flowed: a total of six Bundesliga titles and six German Cups, including the past two seasons, and three Champions League finals in four seasons, with victory over big rivals Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in 2013.
Another member of the German World Cup-winning team who could be set to hang up his international boots is 36-year-old striker Miroslav Klose.
DFB president Niersbach had indicated in Rio de Janeiro that he would be willing to allow Klose to have a farewell appearance on home soil if the Lazio forward decided to quit and the same offer is highly likely to be made to Lahm.