Anyone with the surname Muller looking to establish themselves in German football will know all about comparisons with their illustrious namesake. Although almost four decades have passed since the legendary Gerd Muller made his final appearance for the German national team, many fans still look back fondly on the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s when 'Der Bomber' was in his prime.
However, since a sobering 1-0 friendly defeat at the hands of Argentina at the beginning of March, the name Muller has once again been the talk of German football. This time, though, it is not the powerful 1974 FIFA World Cup™ winner who is taking the plaudits. but a tall rangy forward youngster named Thomas, who has emerged as one of the most exciting young forwards in the Bundesliga.
A stranger to Maradona
Hailed as the jewel in the German footballing crown, the 20-year-old is well used to comparisons with his famous namesake. Nor is that necessarily a bad thing, as when you begin your career as Bayern Munich's latest prodigy, dealing with the pressures of a fan base accustomed to success comes as standard.
Despite only making his reserve team debut for Bayern less than two years ago, the talented youngster is already being tipped to form a crucial part of Joachim Low's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa squad. Indeed, while Diego Maradona may not have recognised him at the post-match press conference following the Argentina clash, Muller's rise to fame has been nothing short of phenomenal.
A top striker, but no dreamer
The Bayern No25's versatility has proven to be a godsend for Bayern coach Louis van Gaal. Able to play as a striker, an attacking midfielder or out wide, Muller slotted into the team seamlessly behind lone striker Mario Gomez as the Dutch tactician experimented with a number of formations to accommodate star men Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
The rest, as they say, is history. With 13 goals in 39 matches, Muller's prolific form has left Germany coach Low with little choice but to include the attacking all-rounder in his plans for South Africa 2010. "I try not to think about it too much. It's all happened so quickly," the rising star told FIFA.com. "I'm not one to get carried away with things, though. I think I can deal with the pressure quite well."
'Breath of fresh air'
The livewire forward shows an astonishing level headedness not only in front of the microphones, but also out on the pitch, where his calm efficiency radiates throughout the rest of the team. Thanks to his high work rate and smooth technique, the Bavarian youngster has an uncanny ability to dictate play, while his eye for a pass and ice-cool demeanour in front of goal allow him to adapt to any tactical system.
"I think I can help the team with my simple style of play. Even coming from the bench I can bring a breath of fresh air into games which have otherwise gone stale," said Muller on his possible role in the national squad. At a time when Germany's usual first-choice attacking duo, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, are struggling to find form for their respective clubs, the Bayern newcomer provides a welcome alternative up front.
Dreams of South Africa
That said, Germany coach Low feels the 20-year-old's international future could lay out wide: "I never got the feeling that Thomas was at all nervous," he explained following Muller's international debut. "I think he has the potential to play on the right in the long term." No doubt it would come as a major boost for the 50-year-old tactician if Muller could occupy the right flank and add balance to a team which has relied heavily on left-sided trickster Mesut Ozil in recent months.
Despite his early success, Muller is clearly a player with his feet firmly on the ground. "Of course it would be a dream come true to appear at the World Cup, but I know I still need to improve my game in several areas," he told FIFA.com. "That will only happen if I keep performing well at club level. I certainly won't shy away if I am called upon, but it's up to the coach to decide." With his unquestionable talent and natural composure, Thomas Muller surely ranks among the favourites to be named Hyundai Best Young Player at South Africa 2010. Perhaps even Maradona would recognise him then...
On his first UEFA Champions League start on 15 September 2009, Thomas Muller bagged two goals in a 3-0 win at Maccabi Haifa.
Thomas Muller notched a goal and an assist on his UEFA Champions League debut in a 7-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon on 10 March 2009.
Things are going well for Thomas Muller away from the pitch, too. The 20-year-old married girlfriend of two years Lisa in November 2009.
Thomas Muller showed signs of a future champion from an early age, leading youth team TSV Pahl to the local championship aged just seven.