Thursday, July 1, 2010
Two Mullers, one goal
Andrew Warshaw, Johannesburg
One of them is a living legend nicknamed Der Bomber in his playing days when he used to routinely destroy teams. The other is a fresh-faced 20-year-old being touted as his country's greatest find for years.
Gerd Muller and Thomas Muller may not be related, but the name they share is once again terrorising defences. Two generations after the former scored goals for fun for Germany, the new Muller is striking fear into opponents.
"Does Thomas remind myself of me? A little yes," says Gerd, who retired from international football 36 years ago. "At the age of 18, Thomas was already in the Bayern first-team and is an excellent player and a good person on top of that, which is important as well. Let's hope he can bring the World Cup home."
Making a rare appearing at an Adidas function in Johannesburg alongside Eusebio, the very sight of Muller senior, even with a thin grey beard, recalled an era of German dominance when he bullied central defenders into submission.
The winning goal in Germany's World Cup final victory over Netherlands in 1974 was the last of his 14 World Cup goals in a remarkable career that saw him net 68 goals in 62 internationals.
Whether he likes it or not, Thomas is already being compared to his country's most prolific striker, evoking more comparisons when he got the No.13 jersey for the World Cup after captain Michael Ballack was ruled out with an injury. Gerd had the same number in 1970 and 1974.
Then there was England. While Gerd Muller scored the winner in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final, Thomas' brace knocked England out in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
Indeed, the youngster's rise to fame is quite extraordinary. Two years ago, Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal spotted him playing in Bayern's third team and liked what he saw. He immediately promoted him whilst at the same time alerting national boss Joachim Low of his potential. The rest, as they say, is history, both at club level (where he played in the Champions League) and for Germany (here in South Africa).
Now, after destroying England, he is back in the spotlight with a quarter-final against Argentina to look forward to on Saturday and a chance to keep Germany on course for a fourth World Cup triumph.
Where was he when the team met at the same stage four years ago when his country came from behind to win on penalties? "To tell the truth, I was with friends at a fan fest in Munich," he said. "Needless to say we were overjoyed."
Muller deals with the pressure remarkably coolly for one who has been catapulted so quickly into the limelight. "I owe Louis van Gaal a huge debt," he said. "He was the first person to put his trust in me, he has a huge role in my development. Time and again last season he preferred me to other team-mates. Luckily I was fortunate to prove him right. He's a great football teacher. There are very few coaches in the world so obsessed by detail."
The fact that Thomas became the youngest player to score two goals in a knockout round since Pele in 1958 has heaped even more attention on this most level-headed of young men. "It's unbelievable to think that he is still only 20 years old," Low said of his young star.
It was Argentina against whom Muller made his international debut in a friendly a few months ago, but now it really matters.
"Since August all I've heard is about this incredible rise of mine,'' he said. ''I have repeatedly been asked about this. All I can say is I'm a sober kid who keeps his feet on the ground. We are focused on our goal at this tournament. What's more I have left some space in my trophy cabinet at home."