With it being the international break, and following the sad news of his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it seems apt to look back at the career of one of German football’s finest: Gerhard Mueller. Neil Evans investigates the legend.
Born in the November after the end of the Second World War in the Bavarian town of Nordlingen, Gerhard (Gerd) Mueller would go on to achieve legendary status as one of the finest strikers who ever played the ‘beautiful game’. In 2004 Pele named Mueller as one of FIFA’s 100 greatest living players and, when we look at his achievements at club and international level, it is easy to see why.
My first, fuzzy, World Cup memories are of the 1974 finals, where the goals of ‘Das Bomber’ powered the hosts, West Germany, to victory. I can still remember his winning goal against Holland – a nerveless, close-range finish; one that epitomised what a deadly finisher he was. He didn’t look like a modern footballer. He was short and squat, but his low centre of gravity and devastating speed over short distances, coupled with his remarkable instinct for goal, turned him into an all-time great.
He may have started his career at his local club, TSV Nordlingen, but it would be his move to Bayern Munich in 1964 that would prove the first step in cementing his legacy… and the beginning of Bayern’s dominance of the domestic game. It may be hard to believe, but Bayern were a second division side when Mueller arrived. Not for long! After a first season which yielded 33 league goals in 26 games for Mueller, Bayern were promoted and a dynasty was born. Playing alongside icons like Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier, Mueller’s goals helped propel the Bavarians to four German titles, four German cups, three European Cups, one Cup Winners Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. Trophies flowed as freely as his goals and, when you examine his stats, his strike rate was phenomenal. In 453 career Bayern Munich appearances he netted 398 times. A truly mind-boggling strike-rate at any level.
His attributes were numerous. Beckenbauer once jokingly said that Mueller ‘was so quick that, at training, I could never catch him’. Being strong in the air and fleet of foot made for the perfect, predatory, goal-machine. Unsurprisingly, he set many records in his stellar career, including Bayern’s all-time leading goal tally, the single season Bundesliga goal-scoring record (40 in the 1971-72 season) and his 66 European Cup goals record – which was only eclipsed by Raul in 2010 (playing for Schalke 04). He received the 1970 Ballon D’Or and that’s before we even look at his remarkable international career.
It has taken Wayne Rooney well over 100 appearances to notch his 50th goal for England. Mueller scored an incredible 68 goals in just 62 games for his country. Only at the last World Cup did Miroslav Klose eclipse Mueller’s record in World Cup tournaments – a testament to the standards that this incredible striker set. A painful memory for England fans would have been his goal in the 1970 Mexico World Cup, as West Germany came from behind to beat England three-two. And his last – the winning goal in the World Cup final – came four years later, fittingly in Munich.
Post football, Gerd Mueller battled with alcoholism and struggled to deal with the void left after retirement. His club never forgot him, though, and helped him through rehabilitation.
It is the cruelest of blows that such a legend now has to face Alzheimer’s disease. His legacy – whether it be for Bayern Munich, his national team, or the game – will never fade.
Do you remember Gerd Mueller’s remarkable finishing? Was he better than today’s best strikers? Tell us your favourite memory of the dazzling German in the comments section below.
Follow Neil on Twitter @swinfan69. Read more from Neil here!