To* 'muller'* is a well-understood verb in colloquial German, if a shade out of date. Some 36 years after Gerd Muller last graced the global footballing stage at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™, the term is set for an explosive comeback in the German-speaking world, thanks to Gerd’s namesake Thomas. Following his outstanding performance in South Africa, the 20-year-old has been named Hyundai Best Young Player of the 2010 FIFA World Cup by FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG), while his five goals and three assists saw him also claim the coveted adidas Golden Shoe.
"Thomas Muller’s rapid rise through the senior football ranks has been nothing short of remarkable. A fringe player with Bayern Munich just two seasons ago, and with a first international cap coming only in March of this year, the 20-year-old striker has captured the imagination of fans everywhere with his pulsating approach play and vital goals,” the TSG said last Friday at the announcement of a three-strong shortlist for the prestigious award.
Muller’s bustling display in Germany’s 3-2 win over Uruguay in Saturday’s third-place play-off, where he opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the tournament, ultimately saw the Bayern youngster edge out fellow candidates Giovani dos Santos (Mexico) and Andre Ayew (Ghana) for the award. Muller is the third German player to receive the accolade after Franz Beckenbauer (1966) and Lukas Podolski (2006).
Muller's adidas Golden Shoe claim sees the youngster follow in the footsteps of a host of goalscoring royalty including Gary Lineker, Ronaldo and Mirolsav Klose. Muller finished on five goals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but claimed the top scorer accolade thanks to three assists, leaving him ahead of Spain marksman David Villa and Dutch hitman Wesley Sneijder, both of whom finished on five goals but with only one assist apiece.
“We had a genuinely good season at Bayern Munich, and it was also a good one for me personally, because I finished with a lot of goals and assists,” Muller told FIFA.com. “That gave 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 that rounds off a season goes so well.”
That attitude reflects Muller’s extraordinary maturity for a player who only burst onto the scene a year ago. This season, Muller has helped Bayern to a German league and cup double, and appeared in the UEFA Champions League final against Inter Milan. The 1.86m striker played a total of 66 matches for club and country in 2009-10. "Looking back, it’s been an extraordinary development path, which nobody could have foreseen – myself included. Normally you’d say a Champions League final would be the absolute highlight of your season, but then you go to a World Cup and take yet another step forward. It's unbelievable. Back in May, when I left Bayern and joined up with the national squad, I had a good feeling from the off. I sensed every player was utterly determined to do well at the World Cup."
The Bavarian-born player’s record at his maiden FIFA World Cup rates as truly impressive: in six appearances, he has scored five goals and provided three assists. Furthermore, his goals have come from precisely five shots on target in South Africa, the definition of clinical finishing. Muller is not only the solitary 20-year-old to hit the target at the 2010 tournament, but also the second-youngest player of all time to net five times at a FIFA World Cup finals. That record belongs to the 17 years and 249 day-old Pele at Sweden 1958.
FIFA.com users twice voted Muller their Budweiser Man of the Match (against England and Uruguay). The player was suspended for Germany’s 1-0 defeat to Spain in the semi-finals after receiving two yellow cards in previous matches.
During the tournament, numerous greats of the game queued up to heap praise on the rising star. "The lad has everything. He’s quick, he shoots with both feet, he’s good in the air, and he makes terrific runs down the channels. He’s a quick thinker, he reads the game well, and he has that precious nose for goal,” Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Muller told FIFA.com when quizzed about his heir apparent.
The Best Young Player award has often proved the precursor to an illustrious career in senior football. Pele was the first recipient of the award in 1958, and winners since then have included Enzo Scifo (1986) and Michael Owen (1998).
Events in South Africa bode well for Thomas Muller’s future prospects and potential for achievement within the game. But as always, only time will tell, and the next step is up to him alone.