Welcome to World Class: Thomas Muller

We are taught from an early age to never judge a book by its cover. But when it comes to world-class footballers, it’s easier said than done.

When presented to a range of the sport’s elite police officers, you would choose Cristiano Ronaldo’s muscular and intimidating physique as a top-notch figure. Or maybe Lionel Messi’s small frame gives him an advantage.

Bayern Munich midfielder Thomas Muller a
A Muller with a fresh face in 2009 | AFP / Getty Images

Much further down the list would be the long and thin image of Thomas Muller. Nothing in Muller’s physical attributes screams “world-class attacking midfielder,” but it all becomes crystal clear after seeing him soar. Mentally, he is one of the most astute footballers in the world, so much so that even his unorthodox body cannot deny it.

From the very first gates, Muller demonstrated the hunger and fire to go straight to the top. While playing for local team TSV Pähl, he scored 120 of the team’s 165 goals during a season, and it was his military nature in front of goal that convinced Bayern to take him at 10.

Landing a dream transfer to Germany’s most prestigious academy didn’t mean the path to glory was easy for the lean and unsightly striker, however.

German midfielder Thomas Mueller (L)
Muller breaking Argentinian hearts | PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / Getty Images

Since entering the scene with Bayern in 2008, Muller has been forced to prove to his critics that it’s not all about rippling physique, pace and power. Football is also played in the mind. The German went to his first World Cup in 2010 and sat alongside Argentine coach and football legend Diego Maradona in a press conference ahead of their quarter-final meeting.

Maradona, unaware of who Muller was at the time, glanced at the skinny youngster and shouted: “Get that ballboy out of here!”.

He wasn’t kidding either, refusing to start the press conference until the starlet had left the room.

Muller had the last laugh, scoring after just three minutes as Germany beat Argentina’s Maradona 4-0, advancing to the semi-finals.

“He doesn’t think I’m a ball boy anymore.”

– Muller sur Maradona – 2010

Statistically, there are few players in the world more efficient than the Bayern star. His steady progression into a world-class attacking midfielder has seen him display incredible numbers in the 2019/20 season, helping Bayern recover from a disastrous start to clinch the Bundesliga title at a gallop.

Muller completed 965 of the 1,230 passes he attempted in 2019/20, giving him an exceptional 78% success – even more impressive for an attacking midfielder whose job it is to take risks and beat defenses with low percentage balls.

He finished this campaign with eight goals and a record 21 help. Aging like a good wine.

His rise to world rank is no accident either.

Very few footballers work as hard or cover more ground per game than Muller, who runs 12km every 90 minutes. This long distance traveled raises a few eyebrows – after all, his job of dragging others into scoring positions or creating ghost images in unmarked areas requires a clear mind and unwavering focus, something that can turn cloudy. and inconsistent after charging for seven and a half miles. .

But it is this persistent movement that unlocks his secret weapon: space investigation.

Muller is a “raumdeuter”, who like Arjen Robben’s famous cut-and-curl strike, or Rory Delap’s long throw, can be anticipated – but not prevented. And Muller has in fact of them registered trademarks. His first signature move is to pull away from his marker and drop into the space in front of the center-backs, pulling them out of position to follow in his footsteps.

This creates a pocket of space for his teammates to collide behind the defense, and when Muller next receives the ball, his instinct is to pass into the crater he just dug up for a raging teammate to gleefully gobble up.

Second, his ability to transparently anticipate the space forming behind a defense and start his run into the inside right channel to break an offside trap. From there, he has the freedom of the penalty area to wait for a colleague – usually Robert Lewandowski – to come in and slap his square ball across the six-yard penalty area. Scoring goals has never been easier.

How did he discover this brand model? Well, he learned to take advantage of his strengths. Muller is not designed to dribble or beat opponents with speed, so he moves the ball quickly and demands it in his favorite areas of the pitch.

What’s most impressive is that he plays on the edge of the defensive line, teasing them to create an offside trap, but he rarely moves into an illegal position. In fact, he’s only taken offside once every two games on average. This is the next level intelligence.

So it’s no surprise that by continuing to learn his role thoroughly, he gets better and better. He has already scored six goals in the 2020/21 campaign, with an expected goal rate of just 4.58. When it comes to helping his teammates too, he’s probably the most selfless footballer on the planet.

“When you are successful in football at a young age, people forget your age. Thomas is not old, he just started to be successful at a very young age. ”

– Jose Mourinho on Muller

Muller is Lewandowski’s Robin of Batman, allowing the Polish striker to post the ridiculous goalscoring records he achieves with his selfless generosity in front of goal.

This season is no exception. He has managed seven assists for Bayern this year, out of an expected assists total of 4.45, which means he can produce opportunities in typically unlikely goal situations.

Add to that his flawless natural form and the fact that he has hardly missed a game for Bayern in the past decade, and we’re starting to get a pretty clear understanding of what makes him so great.

A love for demolition | CHRISTOPHE SIMON / Getty Images

Given the German’s relentless thirst for a goal, we shouldn’t be too shocked that he was involved in two of football’s most memorable shots. Muller opened the scoring in the 2014 World Cup semi-final victory over Brazil, then assisted the runner-up with a delicate back heel.

As we all know, Germany beat the favorites 7-1 on the evening and would win the World Cup against Argentina days later.

“I am not made for the Ballon d’Or. It’s an individual distinction and I consider myself a team player. If I could choose between the Ballon d’Or and win the World Cup with my team, I would always choose the World Cup. ”

– Thomas Muller

More recently, of course, he was the protagonist of Bayern’s unforgettable 8-2 victory over Barcelona, ​​as Die Roten marched to Champions League glory in 2020. As with the demolition of Brazil, Muller broke down the dead end, but this time he also scored the fourth. and assisted Coutinho for the seventh.

His influential antics saw him named the Man of the Match and he embodied the ruthless nature of this world-class team. It was after this destruction that he made the infamous Robert Lewan-goalki pun, which fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps it’s time for him to be rewarded with his own nickname to salute his heroic exploits.

“We call it Thom-Assist Muller… understood? Thom… help? ”

I’ll see myself.