Not only is the name Gerhard "Gerd" Muller still synonymous with the model striker par excellence, but the remarkable records set by Der Bomber still remain unchallenged today. The Bayern Munich and West Germany predator scored 365 goals in 427 German Bundesliga games and 68 times in 62 internationals, milestones no other player is ever likely to equal. And all that despite singing "A football game is far from easy, goals never come cheaply," in his brief, and regrettable, foray into the world of popular music with the track Dann macht es bum.

Nevertheless, at the dusk of his illustrious striking career, Muller could look back on a plethora of special goals. "My most important was certainly the goal that put us up 2-1 in the 1974 World Cup Final in Munich," Muller said recently in his native Nordlingen dialect. The golden era for the West German national team and its domestic league during the early to mid-1970s would have been unthinkable without Muller, as his former team-mate Franz Beckenbauer is quick to underline: "Everything that FC Bayern has become is due to Gerd Muller and his goals."

The powerlifter who built Bayern
When Muller was signed by the then second division outfit Bayern Munich in 1964, club coach Zlatko "Tschik" Cajkovski initially mocked the striker's odd build, quipping: "What am I supposed to do with a weightlifter?" Indeed, Muller's short legs in relation to his barrel-like upper body, and massive 64-centimetre-around thighs did rather lend him the appearance of an Eastern European powerlifter.

However, the small, stocky striker, whose journey to professional football began at the age of nine in his hometown of Nordlingen, around one and a half hours by car from Munich, would enjoy a meteoric rise to the top. By the time he was 16, Muller had progressed through a variety of school and junior teams and the youth ranks of TSV Nordlingen. In the 1962/63 campaign, he scored an unbelievable 180 goals for his club, attributing his strength to his mother's potato salad.

Under Cajkovski, Muller was forced to languish on the bench for ten games before the coach relented to the pressure of the then Bayern President Wilhelm Neudecker and introduced the youngster into the team. On his league debut in October 1964, Muller scored twice against FC Freiburg, laying the foundation for an outstanding career. Cajkovski even began referring to him more affectionately as "short, fat Muller."

In 1965, Muller, Sepp Maier and Franz Beckenbauer, the trio who would later earn Bayern global recognition, inspired the club to promotion to the Bundesliga. The club finished third in their first season in the top flight and lifted the DFB Cup, a feat they would repeat in 1967, 1969 and 1971. Bayern Munich became national champions for the first time in 1969, before claiming a hat-trick of titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The Munich club also won their first international honour in 1967 with the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. The dream team then went on to win the European Cup three times in succession from 1974 to 1976, crowning their incredible run of conquests with the Intercontinental Cup title.

Without Gerd Muller, this glorious era would have been inconceivable. Muller was the club's top scorer every season from 1964/65 to 1977/78, and the Bundesliga's leading marksman on no less than seven occasions. In 1971/72, he netted 40 goals, a threshold no other player has reached since.

German marksman
It was only a matter of time before the prolific goal-getter came to the attention of national team coach Helmut Schon, and he duly made his senior international debut in 1966 in a 2-0 away win over Turkey. At the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, he finished as the ten-goal top scorer and forged a formidable strike partnership with Uwe Seeler. Muller still emphasizes the significance of the competition today: "That tournament was even more important for me than 1974. We had an outstanding team then, even if many consider our 1972 European Championship team to be the best."

Muller celebrated UEFA European Championship glory in 1972 after West Germany overcame the USSR in the final, before going on to score the incredible winning goal in the 1974 World Cup Final victory over the Netherlands. Der Bomber recalls: "The ball came into the area from Rainer Bonhof. I ran forward with two Dutch players then checked back because the pass was behind me. The ball jumped off my left foot, I turned a little and suddenly it was in," he beams, recreating the scene that unfolded in the 43rd minute in Munich's Olympiastadion.

Muller announced his retirement from international football after becoming a world champion at the age of 28. The story has always circulated that this was in response to the players' wives being banned from the celebratory banquet after the Final. However, Muller is happy to clarify the matter: "I told coach Schon three days before the Final that I was retiring. He asked me to hold back on making the announcement until after the match. That was it. There was nothing else."

Highs and lows
Muller accepted a lucrative contract to play in the USA in 1979, where he aimed to carve out a second career after Bayern coach Pal Csernai informed him he was no longer in his plans and began substituting him for the first time in his career. It was the first time Muller had ever been sold. On 6 March 1979, Muller signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a professional club in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

With his playing career over, Muller descended into deep crisis. The transition from the pinnacle of popularity to everyday life did not come easy to him. Beside the occasional autograph signing or celebrity match, he did not know how to occupy himself if he was not sat in front of the television for hours on end. His drinking worsened. "I ruined my life," Muller now admits.

But fortunately, his friends from Bayern, notably coach Uli Hoeness, helped him to get back on his feet. He was then offered a contract by his former club in 1992; initially to look after sponsors, scout for talent and coach strikers and goalkeepers. Later he became a youth coach and first team assistant coach. Muller also acquired his 'A' coaching badge in 1992 and became head coach of the Bayern amateur team in the regional league in 1995/96. Today, he is in full control of his life and has found contentment: "It does not get any better than being at Bayern," he says proudly.

At the 40th anniversary celebration of the Bundesliga in August 2003, Muller was honoured as an outstanding sporting personality in the competition's history. More than a thousand invited guests in Koln's Coloneum rose to their feet, and applauded to pay homage to the man who made such a defining contribution to German football history.

The honour sits alongside numerous other instances of recognition the striker accumulated in his career. Aged 21, he was first voted German Player of the Year in 1967, before recapturing the title two years later. In 1970, he became the first German to be crowned European Footballer of the Year after winning the top scorer award at Mexico 1970. Three appearances in FIFA Select XIs (1971, 1972, 1973) and one nomination in a UEFA Select XI (1973) were further proof of his exceptional status.

Alongside his sporting awards, Muller also received the Silver Bay Leaf in 1967 and the Federal Cross of Merit in 1977. In May 1998, he was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit. Muller also represented the city of Munich as one of the twelve ambassadors for the 2006 World Cup in his homeland.