Opinion

Gerd Muller: The incredible goalscorer who conquered football with Germany & Bayern Munich

Muller
Muller / Image by Jack Gallagher
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Gerd Muller is number 12 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballer of All Time series.


While we have a tendency in football to glorify the technical maestros that possess dazzling skill and flair - the Ronaldinhos and Johan Cruyffs of the world - there remains something to be said for those who do the simple things well.

Gerd Muller is perhaps the definition of such a footballer, whose only task was to put the ball in the back of the net with as little fuss or drama as possible - something the German did with unrivalled success.

Muller was famed for his proficiency in front of goal, scoring at will and often doing so from no further out than six yards, earning him the apt nickname 'Der Bomber'

SOCCER-WORLD CUP 74-WEST GERMANY-NETHERLANDS
SOCCER-WORLD CUP 74-WEST GERMANY-NETHERLANDS / STAFF/GettyImages

The Bayern Munich legend - who helped revolutionise Die Roten - consistently broke goalscoring record after record, both at club and international level, and amassed a staggeringly large trophy cabinet over the course of his illustrious career.

Life began for Muller at boyhood club 1861 Nordlingen, where the diminutive striker forged a reputation within just one senior season with the team. Der Bomber quickly found his feet, scoring 51 goals in just 31 league matches and made such an impact that Bayern Munich decided to chance their arm with the young attacking starlet. 

It may seem an impossibility in modern football, but Die Roten were actually a second division German side when Muller joined forces with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer in Bavaria, but that was soon to change as the attacker's 33 goals during his first season at the club saw them climb into the Bundesliga for the first time in their history.

Bayern's dominance of German football subsequently started to take shape, with Muller's goalscoring prowess pushing Munich to a first Bundesliga title in 1968/69, while also claiming three DFB-Pokal trophies and a European Cup Winners' Cup all before 1970.

Muller in Germany colours during the 1974 World Cup final against the Netherlands
Muller in Germany colours during the 1974 World Cup final against the Netherlands / Getty Images/GettyImages

However, it wasn't until the 1970's that Muller truly started to take the world by storm, showcasing his talents on the international stage with West Germany as well as at club level with Die Roten. 

Muller came alive in the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. Die Mannschaft may not have lifted the trophy, succumbing to eventual runners-up Italy in the semi-final, but Muller's ten goals earned him the golden boot, while his side would finish third after beating Uruguay in the third-place playoff.

Not only did Muller excel on the world stage, but his form continued with Bayern, scoring 39 goals for the club and helping Munich to yet another DFB-Pokal crown in 1970/71. His sensational form saw him nominated for the 1970 Ballon d'Or - an award he rightly won, edging out England's Bobby Moore.

This was just the beginning for Muller, who slowly but surely established himself as the best goalscorer in world football, with his fox in the box style redefining the term 'clinical'.

In 1971/72, Muller achieved one of the most impressive feats in German football history, scoring 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season (averaging more than one goal a game) and setting a record that is yet to be beaten to this day. In 1972, Der Bomber scored 85 goals in the calendar year, another record that stood the test of time, until it was bested by Lionel Messi exactly 40 years later.

Muller won three successive Bundesliga titles with Bayern between 1972 and 1974, while also scoring a brace in the 1972 European Championship final as West Germany lifted a first major trophy in 18 years, beating the Soviet Union 3-0 in Belgium. Muller's steady source of goals also helped Bayern to their first ever European Cup victory in 1973/74 - a competition he would go on to win twice more with Die Roten.

Muller continued to astound football fans across the globe and etched his name into German folklore with his sensational, and consistent, performances. But 1974 produced arguably the greatest moment of Muller's career (and that's saying something).

As the 1974 World Cup loomed large, West Germany headed in to the competition as strong favourites. Not only were Die Mannschaft the reigning European champions, but they would play host to football's most elite competition, piling even more pressure on the likes of Muller, Paul Breitner and Beckenbauer.

Gerd Mueller, Doug Utjesenovic, Jack Reilly
Muller flicking a header towards goal / STAFF/Getty Images

Muller scored four goals during the competition - more than any of his German teammates - and, most crucially, the poacher bagged the World Cup-winning goal during West Germany's 2-1 final victory over the Netherlands, with Der Bomber's first-half strike gifting his nation a second World Cup trophy.

The Bayern forward scored 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga appearances, won the league's top scorer award seven times and was voted German footballer of the year twice in a spectacular career littered with defining moments and world-conquering performances.

He didn't ever fit the mould of a traditionally gifted footballer, with Muller lacking a fair amount of pace, power and physicality. Yet, the German consistently defied all odds, wreaking havoc on defenders year after year with his agility, balance and positional intelligence. 

West German forward Gerd Mueller (C) scores on a h
West German forward Gerd Mueller (C) scores on a h / STAFF/GettyImages

While Muller may still never receive the plaudits he truly deserves, partially due to the biased way in which we judge footballers based on technical ability alone, the German is one of the finest goalscorers this planet has ever witnessed, and one of the greatest footballers of his generation.

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