Germany is still glowing with pride following their World Cup triumph, but having lost outstanding captain Philipp Lahm who suddenly retired last week, the euphoria is now slightly tainted.
In his usual, measured and low-key way, Lahm bowed out at the pinnacle, spurning the chance for more major trophies. But that is the measure of the man who is widely respected for his professionalism in every aspect of his career.
Yet there seems so much he can still achieve considering he is only 30 and Germany look likely to dominate international football for the next decade.
Nobody had a clue of his intentions as Lahm lifted the World Cup trophy in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro after the 1-0 extra time defeat of Argentina two weeks ago.
It sparked beer drinking among Germans to record levels and inspired Formula 1 driver Nico Rosberg, who the following weekend won the German Grand Prix just days after getting married.
When the team arrived back home in Berlin, a crowd of half a million greeted them in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The usually introverted Lahm uncharacteristically played air guitar amid the celebration, never giving any sign of his intention to step down.
Coach Joachim Loew predicted more honors even before leaving Rio de Janeiro with a team that defied the odds and became the first nation from outside South America to win the World Cup there.
In typical understated fashion, Lahm told Loew of his intention to bow out internationally the morning after the World Cup win to concentrate on his club career at Bayern Munich, where he has been since joining at age 11. He recently signed a new contract which extends to 2018.
At 5 feet 7 inches tall, Lahm stood out among his gigantic teammates simply for being the side’s shortest player, yet he managed to captain them 53 times in 113 appearances.
Lahm exceeded his own expectations, considering as a boy he thought he was destined to be a baker. Well, he is definitely enjoying a lot of dough now.
His value to the national side was emphasized when asked to play as an attacking fullback rather than his usual defensive midfield role. He typically shone and looked set to stay in the side for years but had already made up his mind after a decade international brilliance.
Wolfgang Niersbach, the German Football Association president, said it was clear as soon as he began trying to talk Lahm out of his decision it was pointless.
Lahm posted a message on the German football association’s website that he had already made up his mind before the tournament started that he was going to end his international career immediately after the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
“I’m happy and thankful that the end of my national team career coincided with winning the World Cup in Brazil,” he posted. “I have been on holiday for three days, and had the quiet and time to mentally come to terms with the end of my national team career. A heartfelt thank you for a wonderful time.”
Naturally, tributes and messages of dismay poured in from German icons, including legends Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in. There is a chance Lahm may change his mind, but he seems so adamant that it looks like a U-turn will not happen.
There are few players over the past two decades who brought an artistic touch to the game. Andres Iniesta, Michael Laudrup and Zinedine Zidane stand high on that list, while Lahm’s calm and stability can be pitched in with them.
No wonder even a legendary right back like the great Brazilian defender Carlos Alberto Torres said of him, “Sometimes Lahm is just breathtaking. He doesn’t make any mistakes. Is he a machine? No. Weber, Schulz, Hottges, in my day, they were machines. Philipp Lahm is an artist.”
German midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger is favorite for the skipper’s role.
Schweinsteiger became a symbol of Germany’s charge to a fourth trophy, battling on through the pain despite taking an elbow in the face that left blood pouring from a cut.
Schweinsteiger does not look like a long-term candidate to lead the side though. He is 30 on Friday, has played 108 matches but has struggled with injuries in the past two years.
Nevertheless, he was already officially Lahm’s deputy and his leadership qualities are not in doubt.
If Loew is looking for a younger candidate, defender Mats Hummels, 25, and striker Thomas Mueller, 24, also have strong leadership qualities.
Another who could be on Loew’s shortlist is right-back Sebastian Jung who had an outstanding campaign with Eintracht Frankfurt last season, earning praise with the seven assists he provided.
Arsenal tried to buy him numerous times earlier this year, but Jung switched to Wolfsburg, admitting he had turned the Gunners down, preferring to stay in the Bundesliga.
Now Jung wants Lahm’s full-back spot for Germany, having made his international debut in May.
He said: “Too bad that Philip stops. But of course that opens doors – perhaps even for me. I hope I get my chance. For me it is now vital to do well at my club.”