Roland Muller’s passion for stopping goals - rather than scoring them - began in his school team as a youngster and continued right from joining his first club as a ten-year-old to becoming a full international.
“The love of making a save is probably why I started in goal,” the amicable shot-stopper told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview, smiling as he recalled his first steps in the game. “But when we played against weaker sides in the youth teams I was allowed out on pitch and scored a couple too.”
Yet Muller, who has a German father and a Filipino mother, was always drawn to play between the sticks. He learned his trade for 13 years at hometown club FC Koln, but was unable to make the breakthrough into the first team.
German duo in the Philippines
That all changed in 2010 when Muller moved to Duisburg, where he is now first-choice keeper in the Zebras’ fight against relegation. “For me it’s a dream to be playing in the Bundesliga, even if it is the Bundesliga 2,” the 24-year-old said. “Of course you always want to go higher and play in the top division. That’s why we train and give our all.”
Such irrepressible ambition has already paid off, as Muller has been No1 goalkeeper for the Philippines since September 2011. “They got in touch four years ago but I was more reluctant at that time. Then about a year and a half ago I decided to go for it,” Muller explained. “An additional attraction was that the coach is German, which makes communication a lot easier.”
Michael Weiss discovered Muller after sending scouts on a pan-European search, before convincing him to join the national set-up. “It makes me proud to play for my mother’s country,” said the custodian, who recalls the sense of awe he felt when pulling on the Azkal jersey for the first time.
Muller has no regrets about plucking up the courage to take a step into the unknown. It is thanks to football that he has had the opportunity to visit countless foreign countries, sample new cultures and test himself against numerous teams. Such experiences also serve him well back in Duisburg.
Furthermore, becoming an international allowed Muller to visit his mother’s homeland for the first time. “I’d just never had the chance to do so before," he said. "Previously, everything I knew about the culture had come from my mother’s parties in Cologne. The Filipinos are very hospitable and I felt at home right away. Everyone always has a smile on their face. I immediately felt integrated and part of the team.”
The fact that the side experienced an upturn under Weiss and Muller has also helped matters. In November last year the Philippines reached an all-time high of 143 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and also made it as far as the semi-finals at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Room for improvement
“Football’s status increases year by year and is catching up with boxing and basketball,” Muller said. “The Filipinos have adopted a lot of American culture and that’s why football’s lagging behind a bit. But over time the game is progressing. A league has been founded and the national team is getting stronger.
"On top of that, increasing numbers of European players are coming over, which makes it more interesting for the natives. I’d say the quality gets better every time we meet up, not only among the players who play abroad, but also among the local guys. In a way, they look at us as role models.”
However, Muller is aware that it is a long-term project. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said. “We’re lacking the killer instinct in front of goal and we need to be calmer when we go in front and let the ball do the work. In certain situations we just don’t see what the best option is. Playing here in Germany helps me identify those things.”
Despite the Philippines’ elimination from 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying, Roland Richard Guaves Muller, to give him his full name, is certainly worth keeping an eye on. Given the shot-stopper’s ability to achieve his goals step by step, it would be no surprise to see Muller realise his dream of playing at a FIFA World Cup one day.