“Who could make the jump into the professional ranks? I think Thomas Muller has what it takes. He’s fast, good in the air and can shoot with his left or right foot. Muller is good, I have to say.” Such was the assessment some two years ago of no less than the legendary Bayern Munich striker Gerd Muller. However, even 'Der Bomber' could not have predicted that his namesake, who was still scoring his goals in the youth ranks of the record German championship winners at the time, would go on to star at the next FIFA World Cup™.
Yet 20-year-old Thomas and the now 64-year-old Gerd, the celebrated all-time leading goalscorer of the three-time world champions, have a few things in common. Both are blessed with a deadly striking instinct, both hail from Bavaria and play for Bayern Munich, and now, both are synonymous with the Germany No13 shirt.
Praise from all quarters
“Thomas is a guy like me. He reminds me of myself. He twists and turns just like I used to,” an enthused Gerd told Germany’s Bild newspaper, adding: “It’s fantastic to see a Muller wearing the number 13 at a World Cup again.” The young prodigy, who on his FIFA World Cup debut in South Africa seized the opportunity to net a goal in his team’s 4-0 victory over Australia, reciprocated in the same publication: “When I saw my goal after the game, I thought to myself ‘that was just like Gerd Muller against Holland.'”
The strike young Thomas was referring to was, of course, the winning goal in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final and, while the new Muller still has a way to go before matching that achievement, those who know his carefree nature are confident in his ability to fire Germany to glory in South Africa. And none more so than his own team-mates: “It continues to amaze me how audacious and relaxed he is on the pitch. We need players like that,” said Miroslav Klose.
Even his rivals are full of praise for Germany’s new golden boy: “He’s a class player,” admitted England’s Wayne Rooney. "He’s really impressed me, both with Bayern Munich and now here."
But just how has the whizz kid, who last season scored 19 goals in 52 games, managed to stand out at world-class level despite his relative lack of experience? “There is no young or old, just good or bad,” Muller told FIFA after helping his team to a spectacular victory over Australia.
German coach Joachim Low can count himself lucky to have a player like Muller in his FIFA World Cup squad. Firstly, in a tournament which started inauspiciously for Germany with the loss of Michael Ballack, Rene Adler, Heiko Westermann and Simon Rolfes, he epitomises the new, refreshing mentality of the ‘young guns’.
Serbia in his sights
Secondly he is a highly versatile player, a quality that does set him apart from ‘Der Bomber’, a shy personality who was the classic penalty-box poacher. Thomas, in contrast, wears his heart on his sleeve and likes to come from deep, either from a central position for Bayern, or from the right when wearing a German shirt.
“Thomas likes to get behind the defenders more and bear down on goal. He has already done that to good effect a few times,” said Low. Time and again, it was the No13 who came surging forward against Australia, and his dynamic display, along with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, made Germany unplayable at times.
A repeat performance is expected on Friday in Port Elizabeth against Serbia, but Muller knows only too well that the greatest threat to the young German team now is complacency: “We have only won one game and haven't achieved anything yet. We are not world champions or anything.” Showing a maturity ahead of his years, the youngster is already aware that praise and euphoria are no benchmarks. “It is only because we won by such a margin. If we lose against Serbia next, we will probably be torn apart.”
The Bayern Munich youngster is determined to keep his feet firmly on the ground: “I have already played so many games, including the Champions League final and German Cup final and I’ve won the German championship. So I’m not going to get carried away.”