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World Cup legends

Gerd Muller: Der Bomber

May 28, 2010

One of the most natural finishers ever to have played the game, Gerd Muller was an accomplished international poacher whose prolific World Cup record for West Germany is a testament to his striking prowess. Der Bomber - as he is affectionately known by the German public - netted an incredible 14 goals in just 12 World Cup games, culminating in the winning strike in the 1974 final.

Gerd Muller 1974 World Cup Germany vs netherlands
PA PhotosGerd Muller scored the winning goal as West Germany beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the 1974 World Cup final

Muller did not possess the sort of naturally athletic physique associated with the majority of the world's greatest players, but like Hungary hero Ferenc Puskas, his short, stocky stature never prevented his razor-sharp instincts from coming to the fore.

Upon his arrival at Bayern Munich in 1964, coach Zlatko Cajkovski was sceptical, saying: "What am I supposed to do with a weightlifter?" and later affectionately referring to him as kleines dickes Muller or "short fat Muller". But he was happy to let his goals do the talking.

Boasting impressive acceleration over short distances, aerial ability that defied his 5' 9'' frame and lethal finishing from anywhere inside the penalty box, Muller was nothing short of a goal machine - scoring 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games during his 15-year Bayern career. To put this in perspective, Muller's closest rival in the all-time Bundesliga scoring charts - Klaus Fischer - played five more seasons but scored 97 less goals.

A call-up to the West Germany national side came in 1966 but it was too late to earn Muller a place at the World Cup in England alongside club team-mates Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier, who had both arrived at Bayern at the same time as him. Four years later, however, and Muller would be ready to make his mark.

In West Germany's first game of the 1970 tournament, they found themselves 1-0 down to minnows Morocco, but a goal from Uwe Seeler brought Helmut Schon's side level before Muller grabbed a deserved winner, heading home from all of one yard out after the ball rebounded off the crossbar. Schon described Muller as "my scorer of little goals", and he quickly netted three more of those against Bulgaria in the next game - bundling home from inside the six-yard box, coolly firing home a penalty and powerfully heading home for his third. Not content with one three-goal haul, Muller bagged a "perfect hat-trick" in a 3-1 victory over Peru in the final group game - scoring with his right foot, left foot and head in a devastating 20 minute spell in the first-half.

 	Gerd Muller 1970 World Cup vs england
PA PhotosGerd Muller battles for the ball with England goalkeeper Peter Bonetti during the 1970 World Cup quarter-final

Seven goals in three matches became eight in four in the quarter-finals, as West Germany came from behind to win for the third time in the tournament. Reigning champions England went into a 2-0 lead but after fighting back to 2-2, Muller was on hand to hook in an extra-time winner and dish up a sweet dose of revenge for the losing finalists from 1966.

A semi-final clash with Italy brought two more goals, with Muller putting West Germany 2-1 ahead in extra-time before drawing them level again at 3-3. But Der Bomber's efforts were in vain as Gianni Rivera grabbed the Azzurri's winner just a minute later. Italy were undone by one of the greatest teams of all time as Brazil won the final, but Muller claimed the Golden Boot after scoring ten goals to Jairzinho's seven.

Muller's prolific form saw him awarded the European Footballer of the Year gong and he continued his frightening goalscoring form for both club and country, claiming the Golden Boot at the 1972 European Championships after scoring four goals in two games to help West Germany win the tournament. But it would be in 1974 when Muller would truly reach the pinnacle of his career.

On May 17, 1974, Muller netted twice as Bayern Munich secured their first ever European Cup success with a 4-0 replay victory over Atletico Madrid, the first of three successive continental triumphs for the striker and his team-mates. Less than a month later and Muller was leading the national team's line again at the 1974 World Cup on home soil. The tournament was not to be as prolific as four years previous, but he still netted three goals - against Australia, Yugoslavia and a crucial winner against Poland - as the hosts advanced all the way to the final. The Netherlands provided the opponents and the final, played at Bayern's Olympiastadion home, provided Muller with a platform to do what he did best - score big goals in big games.

Johan Neesken's second-minute penalty was equalised by a spot-kick from Paul Breitner and the final remained on a knife edge until the 43rd minute when a darting run from Rainer Bonhof down the right flank ended with the ball being crossed in hard towards Muller. The striker's first touch was far from perfect but, proving his World Class finishing credentials once again, he engineered a shot from a difficult angle, firing past Jan Jongbloed and sending the partisan crowd into raptures.

West Germany held on to beat the chief exponents of "Total Football" and secure a second World Cup triumph, and Muller had double reason to celebrate as he overtook the all-time finals scoring record of legendary France forward Just Fontaine. Speaking of his record-breaking winning goal some years later, Muller said: "I just swung my boot at it. I knew where the goal was, and in it went. You have to react quickly or the chance is gone."

Ronaldo broke Gerd Muller's all-time record with this strike against Ghana
GettyImagesRonaldo broke Gerd Muller's all-time record with this strike against Ghana

The final proved to be Muller's swansong for West Germany, as he decided to retire from international football at the very top, aged just 29. He continued to dominate the scoring charts with Bayern for a further five years, before signing a lucrative deal to play for US side Fort Lauderdale Strikers. After his career ended, Muller struggled to cope with the void left by football and descended into alcoholism. But he was supported admirably by former team-mate Uli Hoeness, who prompted him to enter rehab, before giving him a coaching role with Bayern Munich's second team - a position that he still holds. "Uli saved my life," Muller said, "I couldn't have coped on my own."

Thirty-two years after it had been set, Muller's World Cup scoring record was finally broken when Brazil striker Ronaldo netted his 15th finals goal against Ghana in 2006. And Der Bomber, undoubtedly the most natural finisher of his generation, was happy for Ronaldo to usurp him as the tournament's all-time record scorer.

"I've always said that I wasn't the record-holder," Muller said. "That honour, for me, goes to Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in one tournament. Although Ronaldo is now in his third World Cup, this is nevertheless still a great achievement on his part. In my opinion, he's the best, most complete attacker there is."