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Breaking down Philipp Lahm’s self-promoting advice to Jogi Löw

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Bayern Munich and Germany’s erstwhile captain joins the DFB in shifting blame for Germany’s World Cup performance on Gündogan and Özil rather than asking hard questions of Jogi Löw.

FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2014 Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images

Philipp Lahm raised eyebrows last week when he published an article on Linkedin.com that amounted to a kind of open letter to Germany’s national coach Jogi Löw, urging him to “establish a culture of stricter, clearer decisions” than he had previously used in managing the German team — from which Lahm retired in 2014 after winning the World Cup.

Those publicly expressed sentiments earned Lahm a public dressing down from former national player and Sky Sports commentator Dietmar Hamann, who roundly criticized him for presuming to offer his former coach Löw advice in man management.

Hamann flatly declared on Sky Sports (via Sport Bild)

I consider telling [Löw] what he has to do disrespectful and presumptuous.

And Hamann questioned the propriety of Lahm’s choice to publicly “advise” someone who had played such a decisive part in his own success:

I consider his statements inappropriate. For one, because [Löw] will probably go down as the most successful DFB coach in history, and second because he was the one who put Lahm in the central midfield, where he wanted to play.

Löw had indulged Lahm in 2014, playing him in the midfield during Germany’s World Cup campaign (which sputtered early) until moving him back to right-back in the quarterfinal match against France and thereafter. The comments left Hamann wondering whether Lahm had ulterior motives. He added that, “The timing would at least suggest that [Lahm] has his eye on something [i.e. a position in the DFB]. But I don’t want to presume anything.”


Hamann is not the only person left cold by Philipp Lahm’s “advice.” Several aspects of Lahm’s article trouble me, from the forum on which he published it to its strange form and the specific examples that Lahm cites in support of his argument.

Hamann is right, I think, to criticize Lahm for “presuming” to offer advice to his former coach, but Lahm’s essay bothers me not merely because Jogi Löw has vastly more authority as a coach than Lahm, who has never coached at all. I find it stranger that Lahm decided to seize on the current crisis in the DFB to pen an essay on leadership that in actuality is a kind of open letter to Löw.

To my mind, Lahm’s decision to publish this quasi-open letter as an essay on the professional website Linkedin.com casts doubt on the sincerity of his advice altogether. Is the primary goal here to help Jogi Löw — and if so, why did Lahm not offer his advice to his former coach via a private channel? Or is Lahm opportunistically capitalizing on his past as Germany’s team captain to present himself as a leadership guru?

That is where Hamann is right in my opinion to call Lahm disrespectful: Lahm is publicly presenting himself as an expert in a field in which he in fact has no expertise at all. Despite the catastrophe in Russia, Joachim Löw remains the all-time most successful national coach Germany has ever had. He won the Confederations Cup just last year with the young generation of players that Lahm criticizes, and the DFB is probably right to stand by him. Lahm has never had to manage a locker room, because he was always part of it.

The examples that Lahm cites in support of his argument also suggest to my mind that his advice is more about himself than about helping Germany, Löw, or the DFB move forward. Lahm casts Germany’s problem as a generational conflict between two generations of players, the World Cup winners of 2014 — Lahm’s own generation — and a younger generation, supposedly consisting of self-centered individualists that have only ever known life in a youth academy.

The only concrete example Lahm cites in which he argues Löw should have acted differently is the scandal surrounding Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan’s photo-op with Turkish president Tayyup Erdogan. According to Lahm, Löw should have used “clear words” to compel Özil and Gündogan to make a deescalating statement about the affair.

That comes uncomfortably close to the controversial position of DFB president Raphael Grindel and manager Oliver Bierhoff, who first turned on Özil and called on him to offer a public explanation (a “commitment to German and DFB values”) after Germany’s humiliating exit, virtually making him a scapegoat for it — while it is Löw himself who has issued no statement at all.

And the two players in question are not selfish youngsters, contrary to Lahm’s argument. Özil is virtually the brain of the team. He has started since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, like Lahm, was an essential part of the team that won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Gündogan likewise is an international veteran: he debuted for Germany in 2011 and would have been part of the team in 2014 had he not missed the World Cup. Where is the generational crisis here?

If anything, it was players from Lahm’s generation who bear the lion’s share of the blame for Germany’s exit: Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos in Germany’s midfield.

With all due respect for Philipp Lahm the player, I can only conclude that Lahm the entrepreneur’s would-be open letter to Jogi Löw amounts to little more than a disingenuous effort to present himself in a flattering light as a leadership expert. What bothers me most, though, is that by doing so, he likewise singles out Gündogan and Özil for blame, like Grindel and Bierhoff, and he appears to shift blame for Germany’s showing onto Germany’s younger players (most of whom disappointingly, with the exception of Werner and Draxler, in fact sat on the bench — and Draxler was part of the 2014 team).

Lahm thereby exonerates Löw of his real failure, which was not that he was too nice to spoiled players, whom he has also already coached to a title, but rather that he was overconfident of success and made highly questionable lineup and tactical decisions. The real subject of Lahm’s leadership essay is Lahm himself: Lahm the would-be leader and entrepreneur.