Thomas Muller: The Old-Fashioned Enigma & German Football's Best Supporting Actor

When writing this type of piece, it can often be difficult to find something that distinguishes the player from the pack.

That's particularly true when writing about an attacking midfielder - the most broad, vague and saturated the position in modern football.

When you're working with a player who has just broken the all-time Bundesliga assist record with four games of the season to spare, then, it's a breath of fresh air.

Thomas Muller's antics in 2019/20 were ridiculous, a ridiculousness underlined further when you consider it was a campaign which didn't all go his way. In October, having started just three of Bayern's first eight league matches, he considered leaving the club, who were looking in serious danger of losing their grip on the league title they had won in eight of Muller's 11 seasons as a professional.

Niko Kovac's dismissal and Muller's subsequent reinstallation to the first-team, however, resulted in a freakish run of form. Bayern won 19 of their last 20 matches, and Muller assisted a single-season record 21 goals as they stormed to an eighth title on the spin.

His brain-melting assist numbers don't quite tell the whole story either. There's no metric in existence that adequately sums up the influence Muller has held over Bayern and Germany since he emerged on the scene in 2008.

As 90min's Max Cooper pointed out in a brilliant feature last month, so great has Muller's impact been that the German press created a name for the role he plays. The Raumdeuter, or Space Investigator.

Space Investigator might sound like the name of a cancelled BBC sci-fi drama from the 1990s, but it perfectly summarises the role Muller takes on; with no fixed position, he's asked to use his football intelligence and spatial awareness to drift between the lines, coming short or attacking space depending on what he deems appropriate, and it usually works to devastating effect.

In addition to his game-changing numbers for Bayern over the years - 192 goals and 197 assists in 530 appearances at the conclusion of the 2019/20 domestic season - he has played unorthodox, unfashionable game on the international stage too, outlasting many a sexier performer to remain a rare constant in the ever-changing Joachin Low machine (up until Low made the ridiculously stupid decision to axe him indefinitely from the squad).

He won the World Cup Golden Boot in 2010, though was perhaps more impressive when he won the Silver Boot in 2014, his clinical hat-trick against Portugal in their opening fixture setting the tone for the dominant Germans to go all the way.

He's scored ten at World Cups in total - a tally which has been bettered by only seven players in the tournament's 90-year history.

While he's at his best playing off Robert Lewandowski or whichever Germany forward is the flavour of the month, Muller's adaptable style and unparalleled intelligence means he has no problem playing on the flank.

The 4-0 victory over Hertha in January was the perfect summary of that ability to cause problems from every conceivable position; starting wide to make room for Philippe Coutinho, he rampaged into the area to open the scoring before drifting out to play the role of a by-line winger, floating in a tantalising cross for Ivan Perisic to finish the game off.

His gorgeous dink in for Lewandowski in the 6-1 demolition of Bremen showcased the precision of his passing, while his most recent assist - a tantalising through ball for Kingsley Coman against Wolfsburg - showed that on the break, there is no player more effective.

You look at the honours Muller has won over the course of his career: nine Bundesligas, five German Cups, a Champions League, a World Cup, and on paper, it's all impressive.

What separates his career from the few who can claim to be equally accomplished, however, is that Muller has never been the star of the show. Always humble, he has been the best supporting actor for Bayern and Germany for over a decade now, and having just racked up the best statistical season of his career, he appears to be speeding up rather than slowing down.

He may be 31 in September, but his style of play - measured, calculated, subtle and above all unrelentingly devastating - means he may well be running the German game for years to come.

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