When writing this type of piece, it can often be difficult to find something that distinguishes the player from the pack.
That’s particularly true when writing about an attacking midfielder – the most broad, vague and saturated the position in modern football.
When you’re working with a player who has just broken the all-time Bundesliga assist record with four games of the season to spare, then, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Thomas Muller’s antics in 2019/20 were ridiculous, a ridiculousness underlined further when you consider it was a campaign which didn’t all go his way. In October, having started just three of Bayern’s first eight league matches, he considered leaving the club, who were looking in serious danger of losing their grip on the league title they had won in eight of Muller’s 11 seasons as a professional.
Niko Kovac’s dismissal and Muller’s subsequent reinstallation to the first-team, however, resulted in a freakish run of form. Bayern won 19 of their last 20 matches, and Muller assisted a single-season record 21 goals as they stormed to an eighth title on the spin.
His brain-melting assist numbers don’t quite tell the whole story either. There’s no metric in existence that adequately sums up the influence Muller has held over Bayern and Germany since he emerged on the scene in 2008.
As 90min‘s Max Cooper pointed out in a brilliant feature last month, so great has Muller’s impact been that the German press created a name for the role he plays. The Raumdeuter, or Space Investigator.
Space Investigator might sound like the name of a cancelled BBC sci-fi drama from the 1990s, but it perfectly summarises the role Muller takes on; with no fixed position, he’s asked to use his football intelligence and spatial awareness to drift between the lines, coming short or attacking space depending on what he deems appropriate, and it usually works to devastating effect.
In addition to his game-changing numbers for Bayern over the years – 192 goals and 197 assists in 530 appearances at the conclusion of the 2019/20 domestic season – he has played an unorthodox, unfashionable game on the international stage too, outlasting many a sexier performer to remain a rare constant in the ever-changing Joachin Low machine (up until Low made the ridiculously stupid decision to axe him indefinitely from the squad).
You look at the honours Muller has won over the course of his career: 9 Bundesligas, five German Cups, a Champions League, a World Cup, and on paper, it’s all impressive.
What separates his career from the few who can claim to be equally accomplished, however, is that Muller has never been the star of the show.
Always humble, he has been the best supporting actor for Bayern and Germany for over a decade now, and having just racked up the best statistical season of his career, he appears to be speeding up rather than slowing down.
He may be 31 in September, but his style of play – measured, calculated, subtle and above all unrelentingly devastating – means he may well be running the German game for years to come.
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