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!”

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?