Thomas Muller has emerged as one of the overnight successes of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. The Bayern Munich prodigy clearly has an old head on young shoulders: his four goals and three assists, and his dynamism and inventiveness both on and off the pitch, have earned him rave notices from the world press. However, the 20-year-old had to swallow a setback too, as he was suspended for Germany’s semi-final defeat to Spain.
Germany now meet Uruguay in Port Elizabeth on Saturday evening in the third-place play-off, and Muller is determined to play his part in ensuring the three-time winners sign off in style. FIFA.com spoke to Germany’s exciting young forward at the team base near Pretoria.
FIFA.com: Thomas, Germany were knocked out of the FIFA World Cup by Spain in the semi-finals, leaving you to face Uruguay in the third-place play-off. What do you feel more: frustration at the missed opportunity, or the determination to bounce back?
Thomas Muller: It is a little bit difficult for us. We set our sights high, but at the end of the day, we’ve not achieved what we wanted. But it goes without saying that our attitude now is to go out and win the game in Port Elizabeth. That's exactly what we want – for us as players, and for all the fans in Germany.
That sounds like a rallying call for attacking and entertaining football, and a determined effort to finish third.
Exactly! We’ve been praised for our football here in South Africa, especially by the international media, and we intend to confirm it was no flash in the pan. We want to set out our credentials one more time.
What’s your assessment of Uruguay?
They’ve been great at this World Cup. They have very good individuals in their forward line, and there’s plenty of strength in their defensive tackling. One thing is clear: we’ll have to do a lot more than just turn up, we’ll have to invest a great deal of effort. But we’re up for it, especially in terms of our mental attitude.
You’ve scored four goals at the finals so far. Are you a candidate for the adidas Golden Boot?
There’s no pressure on me at all. I’d be delighted if it happened. But we have Miroslav Klose on our team, and you might argue he has an even more significant target, because he could still become the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes, but naturally, we want to score as often as possible.
You’re one of three players nominated for the Hyundai Best Young Player award at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
I’m personally delighted about the nomination, but I had preferred to win the World Cup title with the team.
Would winning this award rate as the crowning glory of your first full season as a professional?
It certainly would! We at Bayern Munich had a genuinely good season, and it was a good one for me personally too, because I finished with a lot of goals, and a lot of assists too. That's given me plenty of confidence. But once I was selected for the senior national team, I was suddenly in new territory again. It's a tremendous feeling when the tournament which rounds off a season goes so well. And I can hardly believe how many scorer points have gone against my name.
Lukas Podolski won this award four years ago at the FIFA World Cup on home soil. As he’s found out, winning an award like this tends to raise expectations, although you don’t come over as the kind of guy to be unduly worried about that…
The way I regard the praise I’ve been hearing is simply as confirmation of my performances here in South Africa. I’ve given a good account of myself here and I’m very proud of that. But as always, I refuse to let myself be put under pressure.
Here in South Africa, you’re part of a young, attack-minded and creative German team. How important has that been for your overall performance at the FIFA World Cup?
I’m not the kind of player who dribbles round five men and rounds it off with a spectacular goal. I need good attacking players around me. I’ll never play well without good team-mates. We have a number of great players, and we combine well as a unit. Another important thing is getting on well both on and off the field.
You operate in the hole behind the lone striker for Bayern, but you’re out on the right for Germany. Which do you prefer?
I’m not bothered! I don’t exactly interpret the right midfield role as a winger. I always try to cut inside and get a shot away. I know where to look for the gaps when we attack, and that's what it’s all about.
Away from the field of play, how have you enjoyed your first FIFA World Cup?
I’ve been totally and positively surprised by the conditions here. South Africa is a great place to be! All the people we’ve met here are unbelievably friendly and welcoming. I’d definitely say I feel really at home here.
Finally, who’s going to win the Final on Sunday?
If we’re talking potential, it has to be Spain. They’re a superb group, very well organised and exceptionally creative in attack, and they have lots of world-class players too. But we shouldn’t underestimate the Netherlands. Throughout the tournament, they’ve not played the glorious football we all know and love from their past. However, they’ve worked out what it takes to succeed. I’d obviously be delighted for my club-mates Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben, but what I’m really looking forward to is a great game.