This article originally appeared on The Football Comrade. Reprinted with the author’s permission.
Gerd Müller is a classic example of a ‘modern’ striker-stocky, mobile, thighs like a shire horse and a centre of gravity so low it could boggle even Einstein’s brain. He had incredible balance because of this that allowed him to turn on a blade of grass and latch on to loose balls in the box and find the net before the other team even realised he was there. Müller’s ability to snap up half-chances played a huge part in the success of West Germany and Bayern Munich in the 1970s.
When he left Germany in 1979 to play in the USA for Fort Lauderdale, he had scored 628 goals in top-flight, first-class football. 365 of them coming from his 14 seasons in the Bayern, scoring 36 times in the European Cup. His one time record of top scorer for Die Mannschaft (only trumped by Miroslav Klose in recent years) of 68 international goals in only 62 appearances still sees him as their most prolific goal scorer ever, averaging 1.10 goals a game. Fourteen of his goals for his National Team came in the World Cup, the 3rd highest of all time, only just behind Ronaldo for Brazil with 15 and again, bettered by his countryman Klose with 16. However none of their goals were more important -nor more typical- than his winner in the 1974 World Cup against highly-favored arch rivals the Netherlands. Closely marked as usual, he took a low pass from Bonhof on the right bye-line, touched it away from goal, turned on a 5pfennigs to strike it through his marker’s legs into the far corner of the goal. After this triumph Müller retired from international football to allow himself more time with his family, Goalkeepers and centre-backs around the world whom Gerd had terrorised breathed a collective sigh of relief.
A Bear among Thoroughbreds
Born in the Bavarian village of Zinsen in 1945, Gerhard left school at 15 when his father passed away, and worked as a weaver. He joined local club Nördlingen — 46 goals (some sources claim 50+) in 2 seasons attracted the footballing Goliaths of Bavaria. Eventually the Munich powerhouse won the race for his signature, with the youngster officially joining Die Roten in 1963. With 35 goals in his first season, he helped Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga. This silenced the then Bayern manager, former Yugoslavian international Cajkovski, who greeted the signing of Müller with the statement “Do you want me to put a bear among my racehorses?” and to be fair at the time, the club was indeed a stable for thoroughbreds-Franz Beckenbauer and keeper Sepp Maier were amongst the pack- but it was ‘The Bomber’, as Müller came to be known, that kept the team ticking with his all important goals.
When Bayern executed a phenomenal achievement in winning a League and Cup double in 1969, it was Müller who scored both of their goals in the 2-1 Pokal championship victory against Schalke and an incredible 30 of their 61 League goals. The season to follow saw ‘The Bomber’ receive the ‘Golden Boot’ for hitting home 38 goals. Europe’s leading goalscorer, he won it again in 1971-72, contributing 40 of the club’s 101 goals in just 34 games. The latter season marked the first of a hat-trick of Bundesliga titles for the Stern des Südens and their little bomber up front, making up a large percentage of the clubs goals each season, with 36 of the team’s 93 in 1973 and 30 out of 95 in 1974. yet despite his reputation as a Tor Machine, there was much more to his game.
He was often an important figure in build-up play for both club and country. His very presence in the box took pressure off of his fellow forwards and left them with acres of space, giving players from other positions a chance to move forward and get involved as well. Good things seemed to come in 3s for Bayern as they also managed to pull off a hat-trick of European cup wins from 1974-76. In the 1974 replay against Atletico Madrid, Müller scored all of their 4 goals, one with a spectacular, uncharacteristically delicate lob over the advancing keeper from the edge of the box. He also clinched the winner against Leeds in the 1975 final, this time in typical fashion, netting the only chance he had for the entire game.
Much like most things made in Germany, Müller was incredibly efficient and precise in front of goal. In fact he scored so many important goals for Germany that one can’t help but think, “Would they have won all they did without him?”. He was leading scorer in the 1970 World Cup finals with 10 nettings to his name, including 2 hat-tricks and his memorable extra-time winner against England in the quarter-finals, and was also voted European footballer of the year. When it comes to making a nemesis of yourself, he did pretty well against England in the 1972 European Championships. Scoring 6 of the team’s 10 in the 6 qualifying group games, he scored West Germany’s third at Wembley which virtually put England out of the tournament. He went on to score both goals in a 2-1 win over host country Belgium in the semi-finals and another 2 in Germany’s 3-0 win over Russia in the final.
In the 1974 World Cup, Germany played hosts, Müller scored four goals, including the only one of the match against Poland which took the hosts into the final. What a fitting statement to end the tournament on, that possibly the most pioneering striker of all time and most definitely the greatest player Germany have ever produced in front of goal, would score the winner in the final at Munich in front of a nation…and continent that idolised him.
In David Winner’s book on Dutch football, “Briliant Orange” he described Dutch nemesis Müller thusly:
Müller was short, squat, awkward-looking and not notably fast; he never fitted the conventional idea of a great footballer, but he had lethal acceleration over short distances, a remarkable aerial game, and uncanny goalscoring instincts. His short legs gave him a strangely low center of gravity, so he could turn quickly and with perfect balance in spaces and at speeds that would cause other players to fall over. He also had a knack of scoring in unlikely situations.
Editor’s Note: Müller retired after the 1981 NASL season, having scored 653 goals in all competitions as a club player, and another 68 international goals. He worked with Bayern Munich after his retirement, working with the Bavarians’ reserve side from 1992 through 2014. During his Bayern years, he won four league titles, four Pokal championships, three European cups, one Cup Winner’s Cup, a World Cup and a Euro Championship. Now 70, he reportedly is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.