The epitome of the goalscoring craft and the leading force in the rise of Bayern Munich. Winning goals in World Cup and European Championship finals. Scoring in consecutive winning European Cup Finals. And you can throw in one of the best nicknames in the history of football too.
Gerd Muller died at 75 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease leaving a legacy few in the history of the game can touch.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that Bayern Munich would not have the status it has today without Der Bomber.
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He is not their best ever player. That will always be his team-mate and older brother figure Franz Beckenbauer.
But Der Kaiser himself points to Muller as the man who launched Bayern “into the international sphere” in which is finds itself today.
Gerd is the origin. In my eyes, he’s the most important player in the history of FC Bayern. Gerd Müller was quite simply the greatest guarantee of goals in the history of football.”
Now there are two players we have been blessed to watch over the last 15 years who may provide an argument with the last point.
Muller with Beckenbauer
Image credit: Eurosport
Muller is a reference point to both. It was Muller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year Lionel Messi broke in 2012.
And for Ronaldo, he almost alone now at the top level carries the flickering light of the pure goal poacher, which was most brightly shone by Muller in the 1970s.
Despite polar opposite physiques, Ronaldo of the last three years has probably been the closest to Muller in terms of being a perilous danger in the box and having little impact outside of it.
After the bullocking English centre forward fell out of vogue in the late 1950s, players emerged who fit this goal poacher mould. Just Fontaine scored a goal a game in his career and considerably more than this in the 1958 World Cup when setting the record of 13 goals, most set up by his former Reims team-mate Raymond Kopa.
Playing with Kopa at Real Madrid was Ferenc Puskas, who after two years of exile making his physique get even fuller, played a similar role at the Santiago Bernabeu (after being the best all-round player in the world when playing for Honved and Hungary).
Muller was seen as a pioneer
Image credit: Getty Images
In England at a similar time, its greatest ever goalscorer emerged, Jimmy Greaves, whose top-flight records will never be equalled. While Greaves fulfilled the brief of ruthless scorer, with an ability to dribble half the length of the field he was a bit more than the archetypal poacher. This was Muller.
And in his wake, by the time his career ended in the early 1980s, these players were everywhere from Paolo Rossi to Gary Lineker to Ian Rush and lasted well into the 21st century with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Robbie Fowler.
After a mortal goal every two games in his first season at Bayern in 1965-66, he went on to be top scorer in the Bundesliga for six of the next eight seasons, before adding a seventh in his last full season at the Olympic Stadium in 1976-77, which Robert Lewendowski will try to emulate this season.
It must be stated here: Bayern at the time of his arrival were not the Bayern we know now. They were not selected for the inaugural Bundesliga league in 1963 and not even a dominant force in the regional Oberliga Sud that preceded it. 1860 were the kings of Munich and only letting Beckenbauer slip through their fingers and the arrival of a squat 5ft 9 in striker from Nordlingen would change this.
Muller is one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time
Image credit: Getty Images
Bayern won their first ever title in 1968-69 and back-to-back triumphs in 1971-72 and 1972-73 would lead to their three-year run of winning the European Cup, taking the mantle from Ajax as the most dominant side in Europe.
Internationally, he was even more impressive, with his ten goals in the Mexico 1970 World Cup dragging West Germany to the semi-finals, scoring the winner in the classic come-from-behind victory over England in the quarters and then scoring twice in the classic 4-3 defeat to Italy at the penultimate hurdle.
Perhaps like his national side he was at his peak at the European Championships in 1972 when he scored twice in the semi-final against Belgium, a deft header and slot past the keeper after glorious balls from Gunter Netzer and then buried two chances that fell to him in the penalty area as the Soviet Union were despatched 3-0 in the final.
Two years later Beckenbauer would lift the World Cup, making Germany the first European and World Champions – only emulated by Spain in 2010 – and again it was Muller who won it, with perhaps the trademark goal in the final against the Total Football Netherlands side.
After the ball was driven into the box by Rainer Bonhof, his first touch was far from velvety forcing him to run backwards, but his reaction was so quick the ball was in the net before the Dutch defence or goalkeeper could react.
This was to prove his last international at the age of 28, leaving him with a scoring rate of 1.1 goals per game for his country that even Messi and Ronaldo cannot get near.
In all he scored nine goals in the ten finals he played in but it didn’t matter what the game was, a Muller goal on the scoresheet was a near certainty before kick-off.
In 1979, with Kevin Keegan setting a new standard of athleticism for forwards to follow in the Bundelsliga, new coach Pal Csernai felt Muller was dispensible leaving the icon crestfallen.
Muller said: “Because of this non-expert Csernai, this little light for me died.”
On the pitch, his first two years at Fort Lauderdale Strikers were successful with goals flowing, but increasingly off the field he struggled and like many living icons the end of the most glittering of careers brought with it a struggle to replace the chasm the game left.
He descended into alcoholism but at the turn of the 1990s what could have been a tragic ending to life like fellow football giants Hughie Gallacher, Garrincha or George Best was turned around by the assistance of Bayern hierarchy of former team-mates Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rumminegge who persuaded him to attend alcohol rehabilitation.
Muller would go on to help coach youth and reserve sides at Bayern for the next two decades, before the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease in recent years.
He would call this life turnaround his greatest victory.
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