No-one succeeded in making a more explosive entrance on to the international footballing scene in 2010 than Thomas Muller. The 21-year-old earned regular status at Bayern Munich right at the start of his first full season as a pro, starring in a campaign which culminated in a domestic double and runners-up spot in the UEFA Champions League, where the Bavarians fell to Inter Milan.
The versatile forward also broke into the Germany squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where his extraordinary ascent reached its zenith. He and his Germany team-mates finished third, and the player himself picked up two individual honours, the Hyundai Best Young Player award and the adidas Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Muller looked back on a remarkable and eventful 12 months.
FIFA.com: You were ceremonially presented with the adidas Golden Boot a few days ago. How does that feel?
Thomas Muller: Obviously, it feels fantastic. I’ll always look back on this award with positive feelings. It's worth a great deal in world football. So few players win the Golden Boot, especially because it's only on offer every four years. It's a massive honour, and just amazing that it's me who won it.
One of the previous winners is Gerd Muller, who coached you in the Bayern reserves. Was he a role model for you?
I’m too young to have seen him play, and I think I’m a very different player than he was. He’s obviously a role model simply in terms of finishing, although I’m not looking at the number of goals he scored and putting myself under pressure, because I’ll never get close to his total. He’s basically a good friend, and he’s been part of my life and career for three or four years. We see each other regularly on Champions League away trips and catch up with the latest news.
If it wasn’t Muller, who were your favourite players as a kid?
I’ve never had role models; I’ve always been too much of my own character. I’ve always been aware that the way I play doesn’t really come out of the textbook, unlike some other players. But obviously, you do scrutinise the greats like Zidane, Ronaldo and nowadays Messi to see what you can learn and how you might improve. But I’ve never had one single idol, and I do think it’s better if you work on establishing your own identity.
I’ve never had role models; I’ve always been too much of my own character. I’ve always been aware that the way I play doesn’t really come out of the textbook.
You’ve had an extraordinary and eventful year. How would you personally sum up 2010?
Such a lot has happened, starting with the team trophies we won at club level, and then what we achieved as a national team. It's been an almost unbelievable first year as a professional with so many memorable events, so it’s not especially easy to recall particular moments. And we’re a long way into the new season too. Football moves on so quickly, you have to adapt and re-orientate all the time. But yes, it’s been an incredible year.
Oliver Kahn’s famous mantra was "keep going, keep going", and true to that spirit, the challenges just keep on coming for you. Do you not sometimes wish you had a metaphorical pause button on your career?
I don’t think you can really take it all in until after you stop playing, when you might finally have time to watch it all again on video. It's the mid-season break [in Germany] now, but to be honest, the Bundesliga is still in my thoughts. We at Bayern have a lot of catching up to do, so you can’t honestly switch off. So hopefully, the time for thought and reflection will come later.
You followed up a superb season with Bayern by starring at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Were you surprised to be part of it in the first place?
Actually, I wasn’t that surprised. The position on the right of midfield was more or less open compared to some of the other positions, so I obviously had my hopes, especially with the way I was playing in the Bundesliga. I scored a lot of goals, so I was quite optimistic. Naturally, I was delighted to win the battle for that position, but I was in very good form at the right time, so I made it hard for the coach to ignore me. The task now is to defend my position. I got lucky in that I hit form at just the right time. And looking back at the World Cup, it’s not something anyone could have predicted. It was a story which unfolded as it went. I was on a roll, and I had my share of luck too.
The FIFA World Cup was a triumph for you, finishing third with Germany and winning two individual awards.
No one could have predicted that. I went there hoping we’d succeed as a team – we were certainly convinced we could. Picking up two individual awards was fantastic for me personally, but it’s already history, because events move so fast in football. But I’ll never forget it, and no-one can take it away from me now.
The FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich takes place in January. You made it to the preliminary shortlist for the World Player award. What’s your reaction to that?
I never thought I’d make it on to the list. Once again, I was lucky; I was in the right place at the right time. But it’s basically a huge honour to be mentioned in the same breath as such senior and brilliant players.
Was there any particular moment last year that you will treasure?
It's incredibly hard to pick out a single moment. It's hard to say whether it was better to play at the World Cup or in the Champions League final, or whether winning the double was the best of the lot. I just enjoyed all of the big moments, and I think that was the main thing. It was all terrific, both professionally and privately.
It's going to be a hard year to beat. What do you hope to achieve in 2011?
As a team, our biggest challenge is to repeat last year’s success. We want trophies, but it’s not looking great in the Bundesliga for now. On the one hand, we had a few problems at the start, and on the other, Borussia Dortmund have taken far more points than you would have expected. But we have to be ready to pounce if Dortmund ever wobble. The season’s far from over as there’s still half the programme to play, so we’ve not given up hope. Our priority is to recover our league form and our rhythm, although we’re in much better shape in the other competitions.
And how does Thomas Muller escape the pressure and relax?
I come home to my wife, my dog, my family and friends, and that takes me to another world. Then I’m Thomas Muller the person and not the footballer. Remembering the essentials and returning to them is very important.