In 2014 Philipp Lahm captained Germany to World Cup glory in Brazil. Now in his role as EURO 2024 Ambassador for the DFB, he is trying to ensure that more footballing wonder returns to Germany ten years on. He along with the other ambassadors are campaigning for Germany’s right to hold the EURO 2024 Championships and convince UEFA that they are the best candidates. The 34-year-old spoke in an interview with DFB.de about the campaign and why his role as ambassador is close to his heart.
DFB.de: Philipp, you have competed in three separate European Championships. In 2004 Germany did not perform well. Four years later you came so close to winning the title and in 2012 you scored your final goal in a Germany shirt in the quarter finals. When you look back on your achievements in the competition, what sticks out in your memory?
Philipp Lahm: Obviously the 2004 Championships, even though we performed poorly. I made my debut in February of that year and then went to the European Championships in the summer, which was my first competition as part of the national team. In the 2008 Championships we lost in the final against Spain and I was involved in the only goal we conceded. Looking back that has to be the bitterest moment because I had to go off injured and couldn’t correct my mistake. We came into the 2012 Champions as favourites and I myself managed to get a goal against Greece. On the whole we played well throughout the group phases but unfortunately went out to Italy in the semi finals.
DFB.de: Over the course of your career you have won your fair share of accolades. Amongst other things you were part of that 2014 World Cup winning squad, Champions League winner, 8-time Bundesliga winner and 6-time DFB-Pokal winner. Do you look back on your career and think that you achieved all you could or does it still bug you that you never managed to get your hands on a European Championship trophy with Germany.
Lahm: No, I’m really thankful that my career turned out as successful as it was.
DFB.de: Now you are campaigning for Germany to hold the EURO 2024. Do you think that your career has come full circle?
Lahm: The role of ambassador is new for me and as a young official; I couldn’t say whether this is full circle. For all of us, we have the chance to bring the EURO 2024 to Germany, which I am grateful to have and will offer my experience to aid our campaign.
DFB.de: You have not long been retired from the game, you are the father to a family, an entrepreneur, you turned down the role of director of sport at FC Bayern Munich. How did DFB convince you to be an ambassador for their EURO 2024 campaign?
Lahm: The offer of being a UEFA ambassador was too good to refuse. I still have memories from the 2006 World Cup, which made a strong impression on me and so we can’t waste the opportunity to bring EURO 2024 to Germany.
DFB.de: You played for Germany for ten years and led the team to World Cup glory in 2014. You went through all the Germany youth teams starting at U17 level and since December you were named an honorary captain alongside five other former players. Is bringing this competition to Germany therefore a matter that is close to your heart?
Lahm: Yes it is. I grew up playing in football clubs. I know what it can do to have a big competition like EURO 2024 take place in your home country, how the clubs can flourish, how big the broadcasting can be, how kids recreate the matches, identify with players and find their role models. That’s exactly what it was like for me with the 1990 World Cup. The coaches and officials receive huge amounts of respect and recognition for their work. It is important for the future of football.
DFB.de: You experienced the last big competition in Germany, the 2006 World Cup as a player and scored the first goal in the opening game against Costa Rica. All that despite not knowing if you were even going to be able to play in the competition due to injury. How do you look back on the competition?
Lahm: That game against Costa Rica was a huge relief for me. I suffered two serious injuries in 2005 with a torn cruciate ligament and then a stress fracture in my foot and had to miss the Confederations Cup. I couldn’t play in a single international game in 2005 and before the tournament there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether I would be able to play and then I had to wear a special cast on my elbow after injuring it in a friendly. The referee had to give me the green light before the game. After that ordeal it was just a huge relief to be out there. 2006 was definitely an international breakthrough for me.
DFB.de: Has this tournament and the view people hold of Germany had a lasting effect?
Lahm: I’m not sure about that but it changed my view of football. I saw how important the game was to the people of Germany. For me it was truly incredible to see how many people lined the streets in support of their team and how the public celebrated. That enthusiasm was the reason I travelled to South Africa a year later - I wanted to get to know the country that was holding the next World Cup. After I visited I started my foundation; I wanted to give something back.
DFB.de: Do you hope that you will be able to recreate such a feeling around the 2024 Championships and that it can have a similar effect?
Lahm: Yes I hope so, which is why I am getting involved. Germany is a stable country and will be able to host a tournament on this size. It’s not just about the football and as a nation we deserve to celebrate an event on this scale every twenty years or so.
DFB.de: Apart from experience and a peaceful mood, which other strengths would Germany have as a host country?
Lahm: We should also ask ourselves what opportunities hosting such a tournament offers us. We have a strong footballing infrastructure, which we could improve through an event such as this and give German football another boost. Also, football tournaments such as the World Cup or the Euros unleash huge cultural, social and economic benefits, which will positively affect us all. With regard to the 2006 World Cup, we saw a huge amount of cultural projects and many jobs were created. The then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the time that we put on the best World Cup of all time and that, as a country, we were happy and united.
DFB.de: How important is it to you that the DFB doesn’t just submit a perfect application to UEFA at the end of April, but also that transparency and participation are respected right from the beginning?
Lahm: It’s important that we deliver a strong and convincing presentation which fulfils all of UEFA’s requirements. The DFB and its employees are working hard and I know that that will pay off for us. Two examples: we allowed a global community develop our logo and the selection was made through a fan vote. Also, the host stadia were chosen in collaboration with Transparency International Deutschland and we published a thorough report on the awarding of host stadia.
DFB.de: Which other values should the German EURO application stand for?
Lahm: For open-mindedness and diversity. I played in a team in which many players had migration backgrounds. Experiencing different cultures, languages and approaches in sport allowed me to have an open view, not just of Europe. Germany stands for diversity, we respect human rights and we believe in fighting discrimination. Germany is a tolerant, democratic country.
DFB.de: Even when you were still playing professional football, it was important to you to abide by the rules of the game. Why must role models respect the rules and limits on and off the pitch?
Lahm: I’ve always enjoyed winning. Over time, I learnt that winning felt even better when I played with sportsmanship and respected the rules. You benefit from it and you get more respect. And you enjoy your life more. Of course, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I’ve become a role model. Sticking within the limits has motivated me more.
DFB.de: Not just the top level of football, but also the grassroots should profit from Germany hosting EURO 2024. How would an amateur club in a village benefit from a European Championship being hosted in Germany?
Lahm: For example, village festivals during the national team’s matches. People get together and celebrate. That’s the direct and best proof that a footballing event such as the Euros or a World Cup give back to the country. Often it’s the case that the people remain together after the game is over. The children pick up a ball and play the beautiful game. That’s how football lives in an amateur club in a village.
DFB.de: You’re now a diplomat. Is that a role which suits you because you already had to mediate between the interests of the players and the coach as captain?
Lahm: Of course, the last few years of my career and my time as captain at FC Bayern Munich helped me further mature and added to my knowledge of how a team works. Now it’s my task to show everyone that this big event is a good thing for our country. Then we want to convince the representative of European football that Germany is the right country for this tournament.
DFB.de: You’ll be travelling to Russia for the World Cup in June. What message do you want to convey there?
Lahm: Whenever I attend tournaments now, I do it as an ambassador and former footballer, who represented Germany on the pitch – and I do it as Philipp Lahm. I want to let people know what Germany can be – football is life in Germany, people can celebrate football in Germany, people can move freely and openly here, all social classes can take part in this tournament in Germany. Football is available for everybody in Germany. Germany can show again that it’s great to be European. And that we’re stable, social and generous to our European neighbours.
DFB.de: In all probability, the whole country will be watching Germany’s opening game against Mexico. Do you have faith in national head coach Joachim Löw and his team to bring another title to Germany?
Lahm: Yes, of course. Jogi Löw has proven that he’s an excellent coach. The Germany team are made for tournaments; we’ve shown it over generations. We were the first European country to win the World Cup in South America. Now we want to be the first German side to successfully defend the title. The team will take care of that for sure.