“The penalty area was Gerd’s domain. One step forward, one back, forward, back, forward, back – and at some point, he had a few centimetres space, which was enough for him. He had the ability to react like no other centre-forward in the world”
What is the definition of a complete strike?
The definition may vary from person to person.
One could cite the examples of Ronaldo El Fenomeno, Robert Lewandowsky, or Luis Suarez.
To be a complete striker one needs to have the pace, defence-splitting body movements, physicality, well-built, dribbling capabilities, and goal-scoring abilities of the highest quality.
If we wish to cite the example of an all-round striker then still there could not be anyone replacing Ronaldo Nazario of Brazil.
Then, there was one footballer who neither possessed the pace, physicality nor the dribbling or assisting abilities, still, relying on his uncanny instincts to score goals, he formed the league of his own – a platform, which only he shares and the name of that legend is Gerd Muller.
In his book, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, author David Winner writes, “Muller was short, squat, awkward-looking and not notably fast; he never fitted the conventional idea of a great footballer, but he had lethal acceleration over short distances, a remarkable aerial game, and uncanny goal-scoring instincts. His short legs gave him a strangely low center of gravity, so he could turn quickly and with perfect balance in spaces and at speeds that would cause other players to fall over. He also had a knack of scoring in unlikely situations.”
He was known as lazy. He was not interested in training. He did not wish to run.
“What he did with us was basically an insult, we thought. Sometimes Katsche Schwarzenbeck and I would say we didn’t care today, today we’ll give him a good thrashing if necessary. But we still never caught him. He kept running alone towards the goal. If I hadn’t experienced Gerd up close every day, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Franz Beckenbauer.
Well, he scored goals.
“What have we got here”, thought Sepp Maier when Müller stood in front of him for the first time in training after the young striker had signed from Nördlingen in summer 1964. “He was well-nourished”, recalls the goalkeeping legend.
“He had thighs the size of some people’s waist. The way he looked, I thought he wouldn’t last long with us.” But Maier had already revised his opinion after that first session.
“Gerd would sidestep like a wild rabbit on the run, had a great shot from a standing position, and he was absolutely inscrutable as a striker.”
Beckenbauer said, “He had that absolute desire to score. So much so, that in his eagerness to score he’d even take out his own teammates. I still remember the opening game at the Olympiastadion in Munich against the USSR. Uli Hoeneß was completely alone in front of the goal and then suddenly Gerd flew in from behind and sent the ball and Uli over the line. It was his goal, which was the important thing for him.”
“Whenever we had concerns before a game, Gerd didn’t want to know any of it,” Beckenbauer recalls. “He’d always say in his unique dialect, ‘Ah, stop it. We’ll beat them easily’. Gerd was the one who gave me the ease I needed. I was never one to have great doubts, but if I ever had concerns that something might go wrong, Gerd would wipe those thoughts away from me. ‘What could happen, Franz? We can do it!’
FIFA stated, “Muller had a stocky build and moved around comparatively little. Yet he had an uncanny knack of knowing how to be in the right place at the right time in the penalty area, and how to move to evade his man-markers – a common tactic at the time – for a decisive fraction of a second. That was when he would strike.”
“He was clinical from any position and with any part of the body you could legally score with. Muller was neither particularly fast nor imbued with a repertoire of technical tricks, but he had incredible agility, coordination skills, and explosive acceleration over the first few meters. There has arguably never been another player with such unerring finishing ability as Muller, before or since.”
He was nicknamed, Bomber der Nation (The nation’s Bomber) or simply Der Bomber.
Alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, and Sepp Maier, Muller is synonymous with the greatest successes of both Bayern Munich and Germany in the 1970s, and even today is still regarded as the archetypal Number 9.
Born in Nordlingen, Germany, Muller began his football career at his hometown club TSV 1861 Nördlingen.
He joined Bayern Munich in 1964, where he teamed up with future stars Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier. The club, which would go on to become the most successful German club in history, was then still in the Regionalliga Süd (Regional League South), which was one level below the Bundesliga at the time.
After one season, Bayern Munich advanced to the Bundesliga and started a long string of successes. With his club, Muller amassed titles during the 1960s and 1970s: He won the German Championship four times, the DFB-Pokal four times, the European Champions’ Cup three consecutive years (the first West German team to win it; Muller scored in the 1974 final replay and 1975 final), the Intercontinental Cup once, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup once.
An opportunistic goal-scorer, he also became German top scorer seven times and European top scorer twice. Muller scored 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga matches for Bayern Munich, almost 100 goals over the second-most successful Bundesliga scorer, Robert Lewandowski.
He held the single-season Bundesliga record with 40 goals in season 1971–72, a record that would be held until Robert Lewandowski scored 41 goals during the 2020–21 season.
Muller averaged a goal per game or better in seven of his 14 seasons. He scored 68 goals in 62 German international games.
He held the record for most goals scored in a calendar year, striking 85 goals in 1972, until his total was surpassed 40 years later in 2012 by Lionel Messi.
Muller scored 68 goals in 62 games for former West Germany.
He was Germany’s all-time leading scorer for almost 40 years until surpassed by Miroslav Klose in 2014, though Klose required over double the number of caps to do so, scoring his 69th goal in his 132nd appearance.
Muller’s international career started in 1966 and ended in 1974 with victory at the 1974 World Cup at his home stadium in Munich.
He scored the winning goal for the 2–1 victory over Johan Cruyff’s Netherlands in the final.
It was no coincidence that it was Muller who fired West Germany, arguably the underdogs in the World Cup Final 1974, to their second global triumph, following the first in 1954.
It was certainly no coincidence either that the goal arrived in typical Muller fashion – namely that there appeared to be little danger at all when he received the ball 10 yards from goal on the stroke of half-time. He was well marked, yet somehow managed to create a pocket of space before quickly rifling home a shot on the turn.
Before that, in Mexico, Muller exploded.
Germany arrived in Mexico for the World Cup 1970 event as one of the favourites alongside England, Italy, Soviet Union, and Uruguay whereas Brazil were dubbed as the underdogs before the event commenced.
Against Morocco, in their first game, they were trailing by 1-0 and it took an equalizer from Uwe Seeler and a late winner from Muller to secure the two points.
Muller’s winner was trademark bomber stuff as he nodded in from barely a yard out after the ball rebounded off the crossbar.
The Germans were shining amid the heat of Mexico courtesy of the staggering goal-scoring abilities of Muller.
A hat-trick including a bullet header for his third was the highlight in the next match against Bulgaria while he added another three goals in Germany’s final group game against Peru – All in the space of 20 minutes!
Muller’s second hat-trick of the tournament proved he wasn’t just a poacher as he scored a goal with both feet and added a dipping header for his third. Seven goals already and that was just the group stage.
The quarterfinal was the repeat of 1966 final and England were well poised to claim a place in the next round.
With the match seemingly in the bag, Alf Ramsey withdrew Bobby Charlton to save his legs but the German comeback was only just getting underway.
Beckenbauer made it 2-1 before Uwe Seeler equalized with a quarter of an hour to go.
In extra-time the German winner arrived and inevitably it was Muller who was there to smash home a volley from close range.
Then came the Match of the Century at Azteca.
In the semifinal, the European Champions, Italy led before Karl Heinz Schnellinger popped up with a late equalizer. What followed was the most exciting period of extra-time in World Cup history as two tired teams gave more than a hundred percent in an epic encounter.
Muller gave Germany the lead with the deftest of touches early in the first period and later made it 3-3 with another glancing header.
Italy eventually won 4-3.
Muller said in an interview years later, “That tournament was even more important for me than 1974. We had an outstanding team then, even if many consider our 1972 European Championship team to be the best.”
Mexico 1970 produced the most attacking football of any tournament since 1966 with an average of three goals per game and a shot less than every three minutes.
Muller would win the Golden Boot for his ten strikes and he also provided three assists ensuring he makes the record books once again for the best ever individual contribution by a player in a single tournament since 1966.
His four goals in that tournament and his ten goals at the 1970 World Cup combined made him the all-time highest World Cup goal-scorer at the time with 14 goals.
His record stood until the 2006 tournament, coincidentally held in Germany, when it was broken by Brazilian striker Ronaldo, who also required more matches than Muller to achieve his tally.
Muller also participated in the 1972 European Championship, becoming the top scorer with four goals, including two in the final against the Soviet Union and winning the Championship with the German team.
“I’m often asked about Gerd Müller’s importance for FC Bayern and German football,” Beckenbauer said.
“And my answer is that football is very much about goals. You can play well, but without goals, you won’t win. Gerd Muller was quite simply the greatest guarantee of goals in the history of football.”
According to Beckenbauer, it was Muller’s goals that “launched Bayern into the international sphere in which it finds itself today. Gerd is the origin. In my eyes, he’s the most important player in the history of FC Bayern. Sometimes you get classifications like ‘most valuable player’. He was that. Gerd was the MVP. In that respect, he was also the most important.”
Aged 34, Muller embarked on a two-year adventure in the NASL with Fort Lauderdale. Though the ample frame showed signs of aging and slowing return, the goals never dried up. Muller registered 38 goals across three seasons in America.
Before hanging the boots up for good, he returned to Munich for a farewell match against Olympiacos in 1981.
Ironically the match ended goallessly and a match where Muller did not score still hit the headlines.
He was a legend and legends never die.