KEIR RADNEDGE in MUNICH —- Philipp Lahm captained Germany to victory in the 2014 World Cup and now he is investing similar tireless energies into leading Germany, he hopes, to winning the 2024 European Championship. Or at least, having switched from pitch to boardroom, to winning host rights to the finals.
Lahm scored five goals in 113 appearances for Germany between 2004 and 2014 and claimed 21 national and international trophies with Bayern Munich. Only last year he was voted Footballer of the Year.
Thus he is a proven winner and one who bears no relation to the usual famous old bid ambassador who turns up to order, shakes a few hands, offers a few banal quotes then vanishes back into sport’s history books.
At 34 he is still very much a man on a mission, from sharing a media briefing with DFB president Reinhard Grindel to donning cap and apron and dishing out ‘national-colours ice creams’ to fans in promotional roadshows.
In 2024 European federation UEFA will bring the Euro finals back into a cohesive package after the wildly awkward, pan-continental 2020 event which was the derided brainchild of since-banned former president Michel Platini. On September 27 the UEFA executive committee – not the full 55-strong membership – will decide between Germany and Turkey.
The Turks are bidding for the fourth successive time and still harbour some resentment over their one-vote defeat by France for 2016 then the manner in which UEFA forced then-Prime Minister Recep Erdogan to prioritise Istanbul’s vain 2020 Olympic Games bid over a Euro pursuit for the same year.
Grindel, Lahm and their colleagues do not underestimate the political alliances the Turks have encouraged but they believe Germany 2024 offers stability plus superior organisational, infrastructural and financial guarantees.
Lahm told this writer: “We are a country which is prepared to put on special events. We have all the infrastructure, maybe with just a little reworking, but everything is in place. We are an extremely hospitable nation as we showed in hosting the World Cup in 2006.
“We are a football nation: we have the Bundesliga and its clubs and our fans who always want to show their passion for football.”
The word ‘preparation’ is a recurring theme with Lahm, not only as regards the bids but in term of his own career and his decision to step out on his own terms. at 33 He had seen more than enough of veteran players who slide aimlessly and sadly down the clubs and the leagues and far-distant countries.
He said: “Everything for me is about preparation. The same as when I was a player. So I prepared myself for the end of my football career and for my life afterwards.
“Then along came this wonderful opportunity to become a bid ambassador. Everyone here has such great memories of how the country came together in 2006. Football unites all different peoples. I experienced this in 2006 and now we want another summer like that in Germany.”
Lahm was appointed as bid ambassador and as an honorary national team captain last December and had the opportunity of glimpse behind operational activities when he attended the World Cup in Russia not only to support Die Mannschaft but, ceremonially, to bring the FIFA trophy out into Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium at the final.
He said: “I was there for some days so that gave me the chance to see behind the scenes at Luzhniki and how it worked with the organisers, with security and so on and with FIFA. My impression was that it was very well organised and of course the performance of the Russian team helped create a great atmosphere.”
Not such a good atmosphere, however, around the German World Cup holders who crashed out in the first round for the first time since 1938.
Lahm was as upset as any German supporter though, on reflection, he understood that modern football history offered more than one hint about Germany’s destiny.
He said: “My reaction was one of shock and disappointment, especially because I have a six-year-old son and it was the first time he could be aware of ‘living’ the tournament.
“But the failure was not because of a new problem. What happened to us was what happened to Italy in 2010 and to Spain in 2014. What went wrong in the case of the German team can only really be answered by an insider who was with the players. It’s a very different experience compared with when you look in at the group from outside.”
For German fans then, the success of the Euro 2024 bid would be even more important to help a fallen football giant regain its feet.
Lahm, a winner as a player, is redoubling his efforts to maintain that profile along the road to Nyon and September 27.