“We have heard of terms like Regista, False 9, and Libero in football; but Raumdeuter is something which is created by Muller and perhaps, he would be the first and last player in world football to exhibit this”

 

With 30 minutes remaining, Joshua Kimmich provided the most accurate crosses at the left-hand corner where Kingsley Coman was waiting. Coman jumped, beat the marker, and headed home the decider. In a tight and tense final, Bayern Munich lifted the trophy and the way they played throughout the tournament, especially in the knockout stages, they deserve the treble.

Until the Coman goal, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) did not let Bayern Munich ran riot as they did against Chelsea, Barcelona and Olympique Lyon.

The PSG center-backs: Thiago Silva and Kimpembe sat deeper, which allowed the Bayern forwards to press inside, but Kaylor Navas, not as great as Manuel Neuer, with the ball at his feet, cleared the ball either on the center and flanks. The PSG full-backs: Bernart and Kehrer went wider and in the first 30 minutes they were fouled a couple of times and forced the dangerous Alphonso Davies walking on a tight rope.

The PSG midfield kept narrow and allowed a lesser amount of breathing space to the free-flowing midfield of Bayern in the first half.

Neymar, yet again, drew the opposition center-back: this time Jerome Boateng towards him and exploited the spaces him. PSG split-opened the Bayern defence and posed threats, but it was one of those nights, where Manuel Neuer would be at his pristine best, Kylian Mbappe would lack the power to finish and sadly, lady luck would not smile upon the French team.

Someone named, Thomas Muller, controlled the game in such a fashion that lady luck could not but deny this German legend from gifting the title.

PSG maintained their compactness, but despite that narrowness in the midfield, occupying the flanks and allowing Bayern lesser spaces; Muller and his Raumdeuter proved handy for PSG.

We have heard of terms like Regista, False 9, and Libero in football; but Raumdeuter is something which is created by Muller and perhaps, he would be the first and last player in world football to exhibit this.

Raumdeuter can be roughly translated as an ‘interpreter of space’.

Unlike the Regista, the Raumdeuter came about simply through Müller’s response to a question. Asked what it is that makes him special, he answered: “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter.”

Raumdeuter is still not in practice in football because it requires special qualities to display and only Muller has this – the user of spaces, no matter how smaller the spaces could be, Muller would occupy there and snatch the game into his pocket.

This Raumdeuter requires a player to roam from a wide starting position, find space and operate as a controller of the game or a poacher. According to Muller,  “It’s all about the timing between the person who plays the pass and the person making a run into the right zone.”

Space is as crucial to Muller’s game – Having the ability to read the game, occupy the right areas on the pitch, and illusively avoid the attention of defenders is a talent that few players possess. In such a tactic, instinct plays a huge part, but the thought process and decision making in that minimum of seconds totally change the scenario of the game.

Muller is a player most wouldn’t consider exceptionally technically gifted. He is not an outstanding dribbler or passer – often his appearance could be regarded as unwanted, but that defines the Raumdeuter; a manipulator of space, a reader of the game, and in Muller’s case, a player whose unorthodox idiosyncrasies represent a role, which has proved to be crucial.

During the time of Pep Guardiola, he noticed that his possession-based football would not work in Germany, and Muller, in particular, was not one of those materials to materialize his tiki-taka.

Marti Perarnau puts it in his book Pep Guardiola: The Evolution wrote, “Müller has lost more balls than any other Bayern player over the past two and a half years. He doesn’t dribble particularly well and he’s never been the fastest guy. His headers are unexceptional and he could use some work on his shooting. He loves to press but often does so with his head turned towards his own team-mates. And yet this is a prodigiously talented footballer.”

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Muller is talented and what was his talent, none could guess except Muller himself.

The arrival of Pep did not make him nervous of getting out of the starting XI, but just made his excited because the reputation Pep held at that time.

Muller had been a regular at Bayern since rising through Hermann Gerland’s youth system and breaking into the first team under Louis van Gaal. He had already top-scored at a World Cup in South Africa, featured prominently in Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning team, and had already demonstrated on numerous occasions his uncanny ability to find space.

But whether he would fit in Pep’s plan or not remained a moot question.

Pep was well aware of Muller’s reputation as a player and goal-scorer, but he would need to exploit this German talent.

The development of Raumdeuter would start.

Muller had won the World Cup in Brazil and came back home as a superstar.

Bayern Munich’s start to the 2014-15 season was imperious.

They traveled to Frankfurt. The team lined up in a way similar to that of the attacking set-up in Guardiola’s third season, and it was this that allowed Müller to do such terminal damage. Müller started on the left of a narrow attacking trio, alongside Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski, given scope to make use of his “inexorably elusive movement.”

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Muller’s first goal came after 22 minutes – His first effort was blocked on the line from close range, but he eventually managed to bundle the ball in with his knee in what was a strangely typical Thomas Müller goal. No touch of glamour, but extremely effective.

After an hour or so, Mario Gotze played the ball to Ribery, who witnessed Muller and Lewandowski upfront – Lewandowski was marked and left without any spaces, but Muller on the left was ready to exploit the minimum space.

He was picked out and slotted home to double his and Bayern’s scoring. And three minutes later, he had completed his hat-trick, this time running from deep to latch onto a Götze through ball and slide past the keeper.

The goals came from different situations, from different positions; they were opportunistic, space was certainly interpreted.

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Despite this excellent display, though, it wasn’t until Pep’s third and final season that the Raumdeuter role truly became a vital and indispensable part of Bayern’s system. And when it did, Müller would find the best form of his career.

During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season, Pep used Muller as a false 9, winger on either side, attacking midfielder and center-forward. But it was noticed that Muller was all about roaming freely and exploiting the spaces. Pep was searching for a solution to bring more out of Muller and he found it in the 2015-16 season.

Pep created what Marti Perarnau describes as an attacking ‘ecosystem’, in an attacking front four with two wide wingers. This meant that Müller was effectively something of a shadow striker to Lewandowski, although in actual fact, the new system simplified his game and allowed him the space to move freely while the build-up play was largely taken care of by others.

It was a Raumdeuter in its purest form, a role requiring little else other than anticipation, intelligence, and the ability to finish, all of which Müller has in abundance.

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The Raumdeuter is less visible, more of an abstract concept than that of the false 9, but Muller, as the Raumdeuter had been made notably more effective. Lewandowski was able to occupy defenders, leaving Muller, already difficult enough for defenders to mark, with even more space to occupy.

Four years ago, Raumdeuter was under development and the managers around the world did not emphasize it enough.

But over the years, Muller has taken this concept to a new level.

Who else but Barcelona tasted the devastating nature Raumdeuter and PSG experienced it in the final, how tough it is to track Muller.

As the PSG defenders sat deeper and Navas started to build from the back with Silva, Lewandowski dropped deeper and lied behind Marquinhos – a space was visible because the PSG flank moved wider realizing Navas would play the ball wider – Muller occupied that space as a free-roaming midfielder. He moved to the right and blocked the passing lanes between Ander Herrera and Kehrer and pressed Herrera to disturb his progress.

In an open play, Silva started to build up with Marquinhos and Paredes sitting in pivots.

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Bayern changed their shape – Muller and Lewandowski formed pivots behind Marquinhos and Paredes with Coman lying in front of Marquinhos and the deeper midfielders – Thiago Alcantara and Goretzka following the movement, thus leaving Kehrer unable to utilize the half-spaces on the right.

But PSG broke the lines more often and found Neymar to expose Bayern defence.

Bayern noticed it and in the second half, Muller utilized the narrow midfield of PSG and marshaled the likes of Goretzka and Alcantara to overload the flanks by exploiting the spaces on the right.

Neymar was totally dispossessed on the left and center.

Muller and co pressed powerfully – the best exponent of Raumdeuter was in a mission.

Goretzka played a long ball into the PSG danger zone. Muller just touched it to Kimmich by dragging the players towards him intelligently. Kimmich was free and the rest is history.

Muller moved in between the spaces and PSG midfield and flank became frustrated and frustrated.

PSG were outweighed by the Raumdeter role of one man and that is Thomas Muller.