Nicolai Müller may not be the next Andre Schürrle, but as he enters his third season at Mainz, the newly capped German international looks like he could be a key man at the Coface Arena.
There were more than a few critics of German national team coach Joachim Löw’s squad for the summer tour in the United States. With a significant number of first team players excused from the trip, the question was how much value was to be gained with a squad of players who were, if not a second team squad, then at least the first and a half?
However, such circumstances do provide opportunities for fringe players to come to the fore. In Nicolai Müller’s case, his two substitute appearances against the U.S. and Ecuador were a fitting reward for a talented, if moderately unsung attacking midfielder, as well as an opportunity to give the national team coach something to ponder for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
After FSV Mainz’s Bruchweg Boy antics in the 2010-11 season, which saw them propelled to a top five finish and a short spell in Europe, there has been a need for transition. The club moved to a new stadium and saw Andre Schürrle and Lewis Holtby leave. Inevitably, coach Thomas Tuchel’s squad was unable to match the great achievements in the final season in their old stadium. However, while it wasn’t festival football from the carnival club, we are seeing the emergence from a transitional period and, at 25, Nicolai Müller is approaching his peak.
A native of Franconia, Müller was a youth team player at Eintracht Frankfurt, but moved to Greuther Fürth at 16 after being told he was too small to move up to the next level. He played in the same Under 19 side as Torsten Oehrl in 2004. After progression to the second team and a loan spell at Sandhausen in 2009, Muller became a permanent fixture for two seasons on a SpVgg side that was pushing for promotion. His Bundesliga break came in the Summer of 2011 when he joined Mainz at around the same time Schürrle was leaving for Leverkusen.
Mainz is the sort of club who signs successors, rather than direct replacements and while it was suggested that Müller was set to step into Schürrle’s boots, the player himself was realistic about the task ahead and was content to cement a first team spot, in whatever position for which he was selected – although at the time he expressed a preference for a left-side place, the opposite flank from where Schürrle used to play.
Indeed, Müller played on the left, right and through the middle during his first season at Mainz. His audacious and opportunistic volley with his backside on the turf against Borussia Dortmund is a minor YouTube classic. Eventually, he settled into the right side midfield position, which he pretty much made his own during last season’s campaign.
If there was a typical Nicolai Müller goal it is not too dissimilar to his first in the first he scored against Stuttgart on the opening weekend in their 3-2 win at the Coface Arena. Müller showed tenacity in robbing a half-asleep Sakai, then making direct run with the ball before letting off a shot, just prior to the futile intervention from the unfortunate Benedikt Röcker (he slipped at a crucial moment). While there was an element of good fortune about the goal, there were echoes of his predecessor, Schürrle. However, his second and Mainz’s third of the afternoon was the completion of a move of his own conception, charging through the middle of the park, demonstrating his own attacking versatility and creativity.
With Adam Szalai and Andreas Ivanschitz leaving Mainz this summer, it’s time for Müller to have a Bundesliga breakout season. After scoring in round one of the DFB Pokal and bagging a brace on Matchday 1, the prospects look good for precisely that.
Who knows, maybe there’s a seat on the plane to Brazil for another Müller next summer?
Header image courtesy of Mainz o5’s Facebook page.
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