Thomas Müller: the Awkward, Unorthodox, “Anti-Star”

Only the best in the world are afforded the honour of having a position named after them, or their manner of play. An example that immediately springs to mind is the ‘Makelele Role’, named after the former Chelsea and Real Madrid man, who dominated a game from his position in between the defence and midfield. Thomas Müller is another to have a position named after himself. Admittedly it was Müller, rather than any pundits or experts who labelled him a Raumdeuter (space investigator), but few could argue with the attacker’s own analysis of his style. Müller is so unique, and so excellent with it, that he is fully deserving of such a title. Therefore it has come as a disappointment, if not exactly a shock that the German has been overlooked for a place on the three man Ballon d’Or shortlist, when arguably he could well have been this year’s winner.

Notice in the above sentence, “if not exactly a shock”. It is not really that surprising that Müller has not made the final shortlist, given that it is normally saved for stars who are not only excellent players, but also showmen and public personas too. Cristiano Ronaldo has had a phenomenal year, one that has seen him score goal after goal, leading Real Madrid to that tenth Champions League success they so dearly craved. Müller’s club and country team-mate Manuel Neuer has firmly cemented his place as the world’s best goalkeeper, but doing it in some style, playing a large majority of each game in a sweeper role. Lionel Messi meanwhile, like Ronaldo, has scored an unbelievable amount of goals, and though it was hotly disputed, was voted the best player at the 2014 World Cup. It could be argued that Thomas Müller has had a better year than all of these, but his lack of ‘star player persona’ has worked against him in his bid for perhaps the greatest individual award that can be bestowed upon a footballer.

Even the Bayern Munich and Germany forward would not argue with such a statement. He is an ‘anti-star’, one who goes about his business quietly and does his utmost to avoid the spotlight the majority of the time. Unlike Ronaldo, Neuer and Messi, all three of whom know they are stars, Müller presents himself as an awkward and unassuming man. Germany’s World Cup winning manager Joachim Low recognizes and appreciates what he describes as Müller’s “unorthodox” nature, and that is certainly an apt description when watching the 25 year old play. From the first minute it is normally very clear which player on the pitch Muller is. Spindly in frame and almost always seen with his socks rolled all the way down, Müller is instantly recognisable. Add to that what looks a very uncomfortable and awkward running style, and you almost have the forward summed up.

Müller is completely accurate when describing himself as a ‘Raumdeuter’. He does not take on men at pace or leave opponents for dead. Instead he finds the space on the pitch and practically strolls into it. He certainly is a space investigator. That is why his large number of close-range goals should not be counted against him. It is not as if Müller just finds himself in the right place at the time right time, he finds that space. There is not the sort of skill in a Thomas Müller strike as there is in one of Ronaldo’s or Messi’s, but there is an underappreciated quality and excellence in the amount of times he is able to free himself from the opposition and get into the space to find the net.

And find the net he does. Often. In the 2013-2014 campaign, Müller struck 26 times in 51 games for Bayern Munich, which given the fact he is not an out and out striker, represents a very impressive return. In that campaign, Müller was one of the vital cogs as Munich swept all aside domestically to earn a Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double. In the latter he was the top scorer, with eight goals in five games, including Munich’s second in the final against Borussia Dortmund.

His brilliant form was carried into Germany’s World Cup triumph, where Müller could arguably claim to have been his nation’s best player. Finding the net five times, the 25 year old finished the competition second in the goal-scoring charts, and was voted into the team of the tournament. Any fears that fatigue would affect him at the beginning of the current campaign have been put to bed, with Müller currently on nine goals in 19 matches, once again around the impressive ratio of a goal every other game.

Fatigue is an interesting word to use, given the nature of Müller’s game. Despite running at full throttle for a whole match, the forward never seems to tire. Indeed a feature of his play last season was that even when it came to extra time, be it domestically or at the World Cup, Müller never seemed to falter when those around him were tiring. His quality is also apparent wherever he plays and whatever formation is used. While some teams adapt a formation around a player, Müller simply adapts to whatever the team decides. He is equally capable behind the striker, out wide or even up front as the main man, an ability that reflects Müller’s football intelligence, one of his main attributes.

His consistency is another of his most impressive qualities, and something that led to rumours in the summer that Louis van Gaal was prepared to break the bank to sign him for Manchester United. The Dutchman gave Müller his first real chance, and while it may have briefly tempted him, the German decided to remain in Bavaria. At 25 years old he has so much of his career left ahead of him, meaning there will be plenty more opportunities to taste the life abroad, if he should so desire.

But that is looking too far ahead into the future. What will matter most for Müller, Bayern and Germany is his current excellent form. The form that should have seen him be in the final reckoning for this year’s Ballon d’Or award. Just like his club and country captain, Philipp Lahm, Müller has been the victim of his own quiet, head down approach, despite having a major impact in a double winning team, and a World Cup winning side. Müller does not court the media’s attention with his wife. Instead he breeds horses with her. The closest he got to being a ‘typical’ star this year, like Ronaldo, remains his customary wink at the camera during the national anthem of every World Cup game. Either that or this fantastic video of him dancing. Predictably the dance is unorthodox and awkward looking.

Unorthodox and awkward Thomas Müller may be, but he is also influential, consistent and an excellent footballer, qualities that should have been recognized by others in the profession. Truthfully, Müller being Müller, he won’t care a bit that he has not made the final three man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or. But the fact remains, not only should he be on that list, he should have been a leading contender to win the award.

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David is a rare-breed - an Englishman who loves everything to do with German football, both internationally and domestically. He is currently on a crusade to promote the game back home. You can follow David on Twitter via @DavidM33

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