By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
Looking at excerpts of the CVs of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, the pair appear to have enjoyed remarkable careers. Having earned 90 and 85 international caps, respectively, well before the age of 30, it seems they will retire as German legends.
One thing is conspicuously missing from the records of each, however: neither player has won the Champions League, World Cup, or European Championship. Despite being widely regarded as big-match players, the faces of Germany's new generation, they have only performed above their expectations as underdogs and have always failed at the final hurdle.
Saturday's Champions League final was the moment Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Bayern and German football had for years been waiting for: the table was set, with everything in place. The Bavarians were heavy favourites against a weakened and declining Chelsea, and had home field advantage to boot. No final is easy, but it's certain that Bayern will never have such a clear chance to end a European trophy drought that stretches back to 2001. But the pressure took its toll: Lahm was one of the few bright spots as the Bavarians played well below their potential to give away the Champions League.
|Signings can hardly help: only major title wins can alleviate the burden on Schweinsteiger, Lahm & Co., who find themselves in a Catch 22 situation
Looking forward to the next few years, the prognosis for Bayern is grim. In previous seasons there were certain positions of weakness: the back four, for example, was underpar for what seemed like an eternity and it was their defensive ineptitude that lost Bayern the final to Inter in 2010. After this season's failure, however, there is no clear solution: a few transfers cannot and will not make the difference for a team in which only one or two players reached their potential.
|LAHM & SCHWEINSTEIGER'S
2006 World Cup
2010 World Cup
After playing brilliantly for 210 minutes against Real Madrid, Bayern faced a lesser challenge in Chelsea. But the Germans quaked under pressure not from their opponents, but from the grand stage that is the Champions League final. Signings can hardly help: only major title wins can alleviate the burden on Schweinsteiger, Lahm & Co., who find themselves in a Catch-22 situation.
Looking back on their careers, the duo have always performed at a high level, but for teams that were not favoured by the bookmakers. And when it came to the real pressure-cookers, the title-deciders, they never came out on top. Germany were never expected to go far in the 2006 World Cup, when Lahm and Schweinsteiger first showed their potential on the international stage. They led their nation to the semi-finals before their defeat to eventual winners Italy. And in the 2010 Champions League, Lahm and Schweinsteiger's Bayern were underdogs again and again, scraping their way to the final before ultimately being taught a lesson in tactical defending.
Lahm is set to turn 29 and Schweinsteiger 28 later this year: the two still have a number years on the highest level left in them, but their peak periods are nearing their end. As the former mentioned before Saturday's match, he may not have many more chances before he hangs up his boots. Lahm knows just how dangerous his situation is, having been awarded the national team captaincy after Michael Ballack's forced and highly controversial international retirement in 2010.
The best German player of his time by a distance, Ballack never won a major international trophy for club or country and accordingly is now somewhat a forgotten man. Even as he continues to play, the veteran is not regarded as a champion, and with each passing day his memory fades. Lahm and Schweinsteiger risk the same future if they don't claim the world's most coveted trophies: the difference between being remembered as "nearly men" and being placed in a category with Paul Breitner and Lothar Matthaus.
|Bayern & Germany's trophyless streaks will end at some point. The only question is whether Lahm and Schweinsteiger will be around to celebrate|
Bayern's failure this season is a big let-down for the club, but the consequences reach far beyond the Munich area. The Bavarians and Germany have always been very closely linked, and the present is no exception: realistically, as many as eight players from Bayern could start in Joachim Low's team at Euro 2012.
Saturday's loss will therefore come as a major blow to the Mannschaft's morale. Despite Germany having arguably the best squad situation of any nation entering the tournament, the question must be asked: do they really have the 'champions' mentality in their squad to lift the title? Or will they play a good tournament only to collapse at the last hurdle?
In time, the title drought will end for both Bayern and for Germany. The club's financial health is the best among top outfits, while the core of the starting XI remains relatively young. And for the three-time World Cup winners Germany, their youth development system is second to none. Both trophyless streaks will end at some point. The only question is whether Lahm and Schweinsteiger will be around to celebrate.
Follow Clark Whitney on