Unspectacular, unpredictable, unstoppable: Gerd ‘der Bomber’ Mueller
Bayern Munich’s old Grünwalder Strasse ground: In comes a lofted cross from the right wing; standing in the box, the home side’s No.9 meets the ball with his head, planting it into the bottom-right corner. In the same match, at the same end of the pitch, a similar cross comes in from the right wing at about same speed and same parabola; the No.9 meets the ball with his head again; this time it’s a finish in the bottom-left corner. Two unimpressive and unspectacular goals; definitely not the stuff you’d search Youtube for; but add up the numbers for the aforementioned scorer over the years, and you have figures that records are made of. Week in, week out; season after season; one ‘unimpressive’ goal after another; a turn and a shot or a pea-roller finish, and a generation of world-class defenders left standing haplessly in his wake; such is the legacy of Gerd Mueller.
Mueller began his footballing journey at the age of nine in his hometown of Nordlingen and by the age of 16 he had graduated through the ranks at TSV Nordlingen. Mueller had already shown signs of his talent before joining Bayern in 1964. In the 1962-63 season, he scored a staggering 180 goals for his club; and he attributed his strength to his mother’s potato salad!
“What am I supposed to do with a weightlifter?” said Zlatko “Tschik” Cajkovski, Mueller’s first coach at Bayern, mocking Mueller’s physique. In Cajkovski’s defence, Mueller did have a build similar to an Eastern European weightlifter; short legs with a barrel-like upper body and massive 64cms around his thighs! But Mueller served up a valuable lesson for doubters (and defenders) – looks can be deceiving! His low centre of gravity and short turning radius enabled him to twist and contort himself into scoring from the most awkward and unlikeliest of positions. And soon, Cajkovski affectionately started calling him ‘kleines dickes Müller’ (short, fat Mueller).
365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games and 66 goals in 74 European club games for Bayern; 68 goals in 62 appearances in a German national team shirt – records that few players of exceptional calibre can hope to surpass. And yet Mueller, at his graceful best, refuses to accept the numbers as a testament to his exceptional talent. For him, the best compliment he could have ever got came from his old team-mate, Franz Beckenbauer, when der Kaiser famously said – “Everything that FC Bayern has become is due to Gerd Mueller and his goals.” Overboard with the adulation it may seem, but there’s not a soul who would dare refute Beckenbauer’s claim. Mueller was part of the all-conquering Bayern side of early 1970s and finished top scorer for the club in every season from 1964-65 to 1977-78; and on seven occasions in that period, he ended up being the Bundesliga top scorer as well.
Mueller has achieved everything there is to achieve in professional football. 4 Bundesliga winners’ medals, 4 German Cup winners’ medals, 5 continental and inter-continental cups, a UEFA European Championship winners’ medal and a FIFA World Cup winners’ medal adorns his showcase. He has also received individual honours like the Golden Boot at 1972 European Championships and 1974 World Cup, and European Footballer of the Year in 1970. So what is his finest moment?
“The ball came into the area from Rainer Bonhof. I ran forward with two Dutch players then checked back because the pass was behind me. The ball jumped off my left foot, I turned a little and suddenly it was in,” he beams, recreating the scene that unfolded in the 43rd minute in Munich’s Olympiastadion; the moment that won Germany the 1974 World Cup.
Mueller was back in the news not many days ago when Messi surpassed his record for the most number of goals in a calendar year; sparking comparison between the two. Mueller’s own reaction was a delightful one though. He hailed the Argentine as being ‘gigantic’ and said if there’s one fault Messi has, it is that – “He doesn’t play for Bayern Munich!” Irrespective of whether his records stand or not, Mueller will have his own place in history, marked down as perhaps the best poacher to have ever played the beautiful game.