Bayern have no room for Lahm distraction
Bayern must avoid distracting, long goodbye and focus on the prize
Legends do not go gentle into that good night.
Farewell tours are long, distracting and the desire to win can be overwhelming.
Bayern Munich now want to lift the Champions League for their retiring captain, role model and friend.
Philipp Lahm bleeds Bayern. His heart and soul belong to club and country.
He said goodbye to Germany after their 2014 World Cup triumph. Now he's expected to repeat the silverware trick in Europe. Or his teammates are, at least.
Suddenly, the Round-of-16 tie against Arsenal tomorrow morning (Singapore time) carries an emotional weight that no one inside the Allianz Arena could've anticipated a week ago.
The metronomic timepiece that makes Munich tick, the unassuming intellectual considered by Pep Guardiola to be the smartest footballer he ever worked with continues his long goodbye in the Champions League.
And these endless farewells can be tiring, unhelpful and even self-defeating. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson.
Watching him contain his rage in a press conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2001, Ferguson expressed irritation at being asked about his retirement at the end of the season.
Manchester United were playing a pre-season exhibition in Malaysia. The campaign hadn't even begun, but the countdown to Ferguson's retirement most certainly had.
His announcement became a ball and chain and Manchester United failed to shake off the shackles. In February 2002, Ferguson shelved his retirement plans to liberate his players.
United finished third. Their form improved too late to deny Arsenal the title.
Of course, Bayern shouldn't suffer a similar fate in the Bundesliga. The league leaders enjoy a seven-point lead at the top, but their late victory at the weekend underlined the Lahm distraction.
Bayern needed goals in the 90th and 92nd minutes to confirm a 2-0 win against lowly Ingolstadt after a jittery performance clearly affected by the quiet guy on the bench.
Lahm had already been substituted, with Carlo Ancelotti saving Lahm's 33-year-old legs for Arsenal, but his jubilant teammates found him nonetheless.
The captain was buried beneath adoring acolytes, an obvious confirmation of their aspirations.
That win was for Lahm. The rest of the season will be for Lahm. The Champions League, hopefully, will be for Lahm.
A footballer blessed with extraordinary talent and versatility - Guardiola wasn't joking when he said that Lahm could play in all 10 outfield positions - deserves the fairy-tale finish.
But such inspired epilogues only add to the pressure for the characters involved.
United couldn't do it for Fergie in 2002. Liverpool couldn't do it for Steven Gerrard in 2014.
Even the lethargic Los Angeles Lakers struggled with Kobe Bryant's final season last year, unable to shake off the sense that the Grim Reaper was hanging out courtside and pointing a bony figure at every failed attack.
Legends who are omnipotent hog the limelight at the best of times, but legends who are leaving are omnipresent. The attention can be suffocating.
And Lahm will enjoy the spotlight least of all.
Humility, rather than histrionics, has defined his career and his level-headed approach to proceedings will be critical in what is expected to be an emotional encounter.
Unlike the Bayern of old - or the Arsenal of today - Munich are churning out results rather than serving champagne football. And it's working.
In the Bundesliga, Bayern have taken 25 points from a possible 27 since their last domestic defeat - a 1-0 loss to Borussia Dortmund in November - without quite replicating the muscular dominance that defined Jupp Heynckes' treble-winning titans or Guardiola's counter-attacking speedsters.
Age is obviously a factor. Apart from Lahm, Xabi Alonso (35) and Arjen Robben (33) are carefully managed in a side that might be a shade slower than Arsenal, but boast the kind of trophy-winning pedigree that the Gunners can scarcely dream of.
Nor do Arsene Wenger's men come anywhere near Lahm's consistency.
Mesut Oezil's fluctuating form is just the latest reminder that all that glitters in a German jersey is not always gold at club level.
As long as Bayern can avoid the distraction of the Lahm sideshow, they are more than capable of giving the hometown hero the send-off he deserves.
Lahm gave his entire career to one club. It seems only fair that they give him the Champions League in return.
Pressure on Wenger to break Bayern curse
Arsene Wenger is again under pressure to end Arsenal's Champions League last-16 misery as the Gunners travel to bogey team Bayern Munich for the first leg tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Bayern are on a record 15-match home-winning run in Europe, while Arsenal have suffered last-16 defeats for the last six seasons, losing to Bayern in 2013 and 2014.
Another early exit would increase the pressure on Wenger to quit after 20 years in charge.
The Gunners, who warmed up for the task with a 2-0 win over Hull last Saturday, are confident for the Allianz Arena leg, with the return in London on March 7, though.
"If we put in our best performance, then we can beat Bayern as well," Arsenal's German defender Shkodran Mustafi told Sky. "It's down to us and it's in our hands."
Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 in Munich in 2013, but still lost the last-16 tie after a 3-1 defeat in the first leg in London as the German side went on to win that year's final at Wembley.
"We have already won there and I feel we have a chance to go through," said Wenger.
Both sides have met six times in the last four years, with Bayern thrashing the Gunners 5-1 in Munich in their last meeting in 2015.
However, the Bundesliga leaders have turned in below-par performances in recent weeks and needed two late goals to beat strugglers Ingolstadt 2-0 last Saturday.
They also have several casualties. Centre back Jerome Boateng is recovering from chest surgery, while winger Franck Ribery, who has been out for two weeks with a thigh injury, might not be risked.
Veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso suffered an injury scare in training on Monday, limping out of training after hurting his knee in a tackle with Javi Martinez.
But Robert Lewandowski, who has hit 23 goals in all competitions this term, is upbeat. He said: "If we play our best football, Arsenal probably won't have many chances." - WIRE SERVICES