World Cup 2014: Lanky and lazy, but Thomas Müller provides killer instinct for Germany


Sports News Correspondent

“Eins, zwei, drei, vier!” was Der Tagesspiegel’s happy take on Germany’s perfect start to the World Cup. Bild, the country’s best-selling tabloid, was more bullish. “This,” it declared, “is going to be our World Cup.” And if it is going to be the Nationalmannschaft’s World Cup then it is set to be one German player’s tournament in particular. Thomas Müller, added Bild, has the “killer gene”.

It is only four years since Diego Maradona refused to share a post-match press conference with a skinny, young Bavarian, fresh from made his international debut in a friendly against Maradona’s Argentina. “He looks like a ball-boy,” huffed Maradona as he stomped off stage. Much more of the “eins, zwei, drei” that Müller produced against Portugal in Salvador and he will be cast among the greats, well worth a seat alongside Maradona and anybody else.

Read more: Merkel takes selfie with squad
Germany coach picks nose then shakes Ronaldo's hand
Mueller v Ronaldo

Yesterday the Argentine judged that Germany had “touched perfection” in their 4-0 win over Portugal, and he mentioned Müller too, albeit grudgingly as if he still felt a burning irritation at the insult of being made to sit with the upstart. “He has no muscles but he played well,” sniffed Maradona.


It is easy to be sniffy about Müller, judging on appearances. He is all arms and legs, something of a Salvador Dali footballer, with no obvious athletic abilities and at times it even seems as if his footballing abilities are minimal for a player wearing the white of Germany. There are the long passages of play where he seems to do very little at all. And then he wins the match, to update and customise Gary Lineker’s cute summary of German football.

Thomas Mueller comes together with Pepe Thomas Mueller comes together with Pepe  

Müller’s hat-trick on Monday afternoon – at a time of day when many thought the Germans would struggle in the heat – means he has now scored eight goals at World Cup finals, the same as Maradona. Müller won the Golden Boot four years ago at the World Cup in South Africa. Add his qualifying record to the mix and Germany with Müller in the side – he was suspended for the 2010 1-0 semi-final defeat by Spain – have won 14 of 16 games, scoring 56 goals in the process. Müller has netted 12 of them. His overall record for his country is 50 caps, 20 goals and 22 assists. For all the more obvious talents around him, he has become Germany head coach Joachim Löw’s crutch, and not only on the pitch.

Löw and Germany arrived in Brazil under immense pressure to win the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Simply playing attractive football is nowhere near good enough. Reaching the final is not good enough. It is win or bust for Löw after the failure of Euro 2012, where they lost 2-1 to Italy in the semi-finals. Germany have gone 18 years without a trophy and there is no patience back home for that drought to extend into a third decade.

Cristiano Ronaldo shakes Joachim Low's hand. If only he knew what had happened seconds before Cristiano Ronaldo shakes Joachim Low's hand. If only he knew what had happened seconds before  

Here then is the less obvious part of Müller’s huge importance to Löw and his team-mates: that this pressure is all Oktoberfest beer down a Bavarian’s throat for the 24-year-old. “Even just in terms of the atmosphere in the team, Thomas is extremely important,” said Andreas Köpke, Germany’s goalkeeping coach. “He laughs out on the pitch and in the changing room before matches, when the tension is off the scale.

“We saw again [against Portugal] that he can play and score goals too. He’s always the life and soul of the party and is unbelievably important to our game.”

As a boy Müller played for TSV Pähl and in one season scored 120 of the team’s 165 goals. A move to nearby Bayern Munich was inevitable and the goals flowed as he progressed up the club’s ranks. Jürgen Klinsmann, then the Bayern Munich coach, handed him his club debut in 2008 but it was the German’s successor at Bayern, Louis van Gaal, who gave the youngster his trust. “With me, Müller always plays,” announced the Dutchman and he was true to his word, using him as a striker or on the right wing. Müller describes Van Gaal as his “mentor”.

Lukas Podolski after Germany beat Portugal 4-0 in the World Cup Lukas Podolski after Germany beat Portugal 4-0 in the World Cup  

His path to the national side came via every junior category, from Under-16 level upwards. Both Jupp Heynckes, Van Gaal’s successor at Bayern, and Löw added tactical discipline to Müller’s game. Heynckes liked to play him on the right for Bayern, while Löw required him to bolster midfield when necessary.

Under the current Bayern coach Pep Guardiola, who prefers Arjen Robben to play on the right, Müller has been given the right to roam. His value to the club was made clear in their recent offer of a new contract until 2019.

Müller enjoys the freedom he has been given by Löw and Guardiola. He coined his own term for what he does on a football pitch in an interview in Germany in 2011. He calls himself a “Raumdeuter”, a space investigator.

“He has instinct for creating dangerous situations and scores in situations where you don’t expect it,” said Löw. “Thomas is a very unorthodox player; sometimes you don’t really know or cannot predict his pathways on pitch, he is difficult to interpret for opponents, but he has one aim – how can I score a goal? That is the only focus and is what makes him so dangerous, he is a born scorer.”

There are comparisons there with his namesake Gerd Müller, Germany’s all-time leading scorer with 68 goals, and the former West Germany star has made them. “He is a bit like myself,” he said after the 2010 World Cup. Thomas Müller is taller and brings more to the team as a whole, but like Gerd, he wears the No 13 shirt, wears his socks round his ankles and scores scuffed goals (as well as belters). Gerd won the Golden Boot at the 1970 World Cup. No one has won it twice. 

“We looked up and thought ‘Hoopla’!” said Müller of his team’s reaction to the scoreboard inside the Arena Fonte Nova showing them two-up after a third of the Portugal game. An hour later and the rest of the footballing world took in the score and simply thought “Müller!”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own