Who is the star of this Germany team? It was goalkeeper Manuel Neuer who joined Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi on a stage in January in Zurich when he came third in the Ballon D’Or vote for the world’s best player.
Perhaps that was no surprise, given that Germany has always viewed its goalkeepers as more significant than other nations. “The team is the star,” is the typical quote from anyone involved with the World Cup champions but this season, one man is threatening to change that dynamic.
Thomas Muller has scored 13 goals in 12 games this season, three of them for Germany, and Bayern rejected an offer of €120m for him this summer.
Muller himself admits that other players are better in the air, and with their right foot, and their left foot.
“I know I do not have a very elegant style. I’m not a magician. But I’m unpredictable and I know what to do: go where the danger is. I understand that many find it hard to get me. They say: ‘Impossible, how did he do that?’ But, at some point, they maybe start thinking, ‘Oh, he’s quite good after all.’”
Muller, like many of his peers in this German generation, is smart and self-aware. He knows he will never beat a 6’5” defender in a heading duel, so he avoids those situations. The most famous explanation of his role came when he was 21 and described himself as a “raumdeuter”, an ‘interpreter of space’. He never stops running, is never injured — he says it’s because he doesn’t have any muscles — and never feels pressure in front of goal.
He also doesn’t take himself too seriously, as can be seen by his regular training-ground routine. He appears to mock Ronaldo by trying as many step-overs as he can before he loses his balance, while his team-mates laugh away. His twitter account, @esmuellert, literally translates as, ‘it mullers’, in homage to Gerd Muller, whose poacher’s instinct coined a new verb.
Did he feel any pressure from the other Muller, a hero of West Germany’s successful era in the 1970s, before the 2014 World Cup? No. Instead he chose to wear Muller’s previous number, 13, for the tournament in Brazil.
Muller has scored against every team in Euro qualifying Group D apart from Ireland, and he did play 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw 12 months ago. This season, his form has been exceptional. For Bayern he has played as a more orthodox second striker behind Robert Lewandowski — another opponent for Ireland to fear this week — but with Germany, he has swapped roles with Mario Goetze as either the false nine or the right-winger in a 4-3-3 that’s almost impossible to defend against.
“I feel comfortable in both positions, even if I have a slight preference for the right side, because I have more experience there. Being versatile is an advantage and to play as the false nine doesn’t scare me.”
Nothing phases Muller. He turned 26 a few weeks ago and has plenty to look forward to, not least a new bumper contract from Bayern to ward off future interest from Manchester. Then there’s that possible trip to Zurich in January. Ireland’s defenders will need to be raumdeuters in the Aviva tomorrow night.
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