Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich 2014: Philipp Lahm Is A Player To Watch

Martin Rose

A player of invention, guile and athleticism, Bayern's Magic Dwarf could be a key player in the Champions League semifinal.

He has only one foot - his right - and he's small. But that doesn't prevent Philipp Lahm from being one of the greatest fullbacks in modern history. And it doesn't matter what side of the pitch he plays on. He has only one real weakness - he's not very good at heading the ball. And at 1.70 m one can hardly hold this against him.

He can dribble, cross, pass, and score beautiful goals. He's intelligent and rarely has a bad idea on the pitch. He is Germany captain, and Bayern Munich captain, and he managed both by the age of 26 in a footballing culture that does not traditionally favour trusting the young with responsibility. Independent minded and a natural leader, he is famously the player who received a club-record fine for complaining about the direction Bayern was taking over transfers in 2009. 25 year old Lahm accused the Board of lacking ambition. He was fined, but they didn't bench him.

His autobiography, key sections of which were published before it was released, caused a minor scandal as he chatted about former coaches and dispensed advice to (even younger) players. He revealed that Felix Magath thrives on frightening his squad, Jurgen Klinsmann doesn't understand football, and Louis van Gaal left his defenders to work out their own game plan. All this was an open secret, but Lahm was 28 years old and still playing, and the press is fond of overreacting when players tell them what they already know. It was called reckless by some, courageous by others.

Other critics wondered why a player would publish an autobiography before winning any major international trophies. The following year, Lahm and many of his other club teammates permanently shut up the German punditry who were always accusing them of mental frailty in the wake of a disastrous 2011-12 season by winning their historic treble. Self-confidence is not a problem where Lahm is concerned.

Unsurprisingly, Philipp Lahm's many gifts make him a player to watch in this tie. He's so versatile, for example, that it is hard to predict where he will start. It used to be a question of whether his coaches placed him on the left or right - and he played equally well on either side. Now we can't even be sure that Pep Guardiola, who has called Philipp Lahm the most intelligent player he has ever coached, will even start as a fullback. This year, Europe's greatest defender has sometimes played in midfield.

In a year where Bayern are trying to do the impossible and repeat their treble, it says a great deal about their captain that Guardiola felt so comfortable experimenting with him.

In his biggest moment in the tie against Real Madrid in 2012, Lahm crossed for Bayern's second goal at The Allianz Arena in the final moments of the first leg as Madrid disintegrated into indiscipline after some poor substitutions following their away goal. It was, perhaps, the key moment for Bayern in that tie.

No matter where he plays, he is a player to watch for.

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