Der Bomber turns 75
The great Gerd Muller turns 75 today
Der Bomber was one of the finest goalscorers of all time
We pay tribute to the ailing Germany and Bayern Munich legend
"Then there’s a boom, then there’s a roar, and everyone shouts, ‘Yes, Muller’s scored!’”
That short line from a song that Gerd Muller himself set to music during his playing career may seem a little strange from today’s perspective, but it still manages to quite wonderfully describe the kind of player the man born 75 years ago in the Bavarian town of Nordlingen was: someone who scored goals.
Alongside Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner and Sepp Maier, Muller is synonymous with the greatest successes of both Bayern Munich and Germany in the 1970s, and even today is still regarded as the archetypal No9.
It was no coincidence that it was Muller who fired West Germany, arguably the underdogs in the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ Final, to their second global triumph, following the first in 1954.
It was certainly no coincidence either that the goal arrived in typical Muller fashion - namely that there appeared to be little danger at all when he received the ball 10 yards from goal on the stroke of half-time. He was well marked, yet somehow managed to create a pocket of space before quickly rifling home a shot on the turn.
Unfortunately, Muller is currently in poor health. He has been suffering from severe dementia for approximately the last five years and lives in a care home to the south of Munich, where he is regularly visited by his wife of many years, Uschi.
“He hardly eats anything at all now, can barely swallow, is in bed for almost 24 hours a day and is only awake for a few moments,” she told Bild newspaper. “It’s so lovely when he opens his eyes briefly. He’s always been a fighter, he was brave his whole life. And he’s the same now.”
It is especially important for people who never saw Muller in action to understand his playing style, because he recorded numbers that only the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are capable of achieving today. Indeed, his scoring tallies have led to heated online debates as to what his value would be in the modern transfer market. Yet he played in a manner very different to that of the Argentinian and Portuguese forwards.
Muller had a stocky build and moved around comparatively little. Yet he had an uncanny knack of knowing how to be in the right place at the right time in the penalty area, and how to move to evade his man-markers – a common tactic at the time – for a decisive fraction of a second. That was when he would strike.
He was clinical from any position and with any part of the body you could legally score with. Muller was neither particularly fast nor imbued with a repertoire of technical tricks, but he had incredible agility, coordination skills and explosive acceleration over the first few metres. There has arguably never been another player with such unerring finishing ability as Muller, before or since.
Facts and anecdotes
The day before the 1974 World Cup Final, Muller told Germany coach Helmut Schon that he would be retiring from international duty, at the age of 28, in order to have more time for his family
While Muller usually wore the No9 shirt for Bayern, he donned the No13 jersey more often than not for Germany
Muller suffered from problems with alcohol after his playing career; his former teammates Uli Hoeness, Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge tried to help him overcome them
He signed for Bayern in 1964 because he did not think he had a chance at local rivals 1860 Munich, who were the better team at the time
Muller is reported to have been close to a move to Nurnberg, but the transfer allegedly broke down because there were already two players named Muller in the squad
A little-known fact: Muller actually scored a second goal in the 1974 World Cup Final, but it was disallowed for a narrow offside call
In his debut Bundesliga season, Muller put Bayern 1-0 up against Hamburg before replacing the injured Sepp Maier in goal. He then came out again with his side 4-0 up, allowing Maier to return between the posts
In his own words
"As a striker you have to know where the goal is. And I knew where it was."
"The best part was the World Cup."
"You need to be able to score goals blind, you need to know where the goal is without looking. If you need to think, it’s already too late."
"The penalty box was my kingdom. I didn’t score many goals from outside the area in my career."
"I once scored a free-kick against Glasgow Rangers, but that was more by accident. I wasn’t supposed to take it, but I just grabbed the ball."
"Whenever Franz came forward I knew he always wanted a one-two. If he played it to me slowly then I was to play it back to him. But if he drilled it in to me then I was supposed to do something with it."
What others said
"He scored a lot of spectacular goals. Of course there were also tap-ins because he anticipated and was in the right place. Gerd always said, ‘a goal is a goal’. He wasn’t bothered by getting kicked. He used to say: ‘I don’t mind if I get knocked down, but if they pull on my shirt then I could kill them’." Uschi Muller, wife
"There were so many times in training where I would say to 'Katsche' Schwarzenbeck: ‘Right, let’s floor him.' And what happened? He would turn, and turn again and then 'Katsch' and me would be on the ground and Gerd would be gone." Franz Beckenbauer
"I wouldn’t put myself at the same level as Gerd Muller. I needed many more games to get to this number of goals. That says a lot about him. You can’t compare anyone to Gerd Muller. His achievements are unique. I’ve also told him that personally." Miroslav Klose on Muller after overtaking him to become Germany’s all-time top scorer
"What am I supposed to do with a weight lifter?" Zlatko Cajkovski, Muller’s coach when he signed for Bayern
"He was one of the greatest geniuses I’ve ever seen in football." Paul Breitner
"Short, fat Muller" Cajkovski later, affectionately
"Once I was trying to shoo away a particularly persistent fly from my soup, but to no avail. Gerd Muller was sitting next to me. After a while he said: ‘Leave it’. Then he watched the fly attentively. When it flew back to my bowl, he shot his hand out in a flash. Then he opened it and smirked. The dead fly was in there." Beckenbauer
"He was a good, brave man his whole life. He was never fully aware of his great successes, he simply enjoyed them. He never thought he was the greatest of all time. He was always a modest, reserved, withdrawn person. He was always friendly and one of the last good people around." Uschi Muller
"If it hadn’t been for Gerd, we would still be using wooden barracks at Sabener Street. We would all be a lot poorer." Beckenbauer