The world of football is now missing one of its greatest ever strikers after the death of Gerd Müller.
The legendary German striker died aged 75. He scored 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany, including the winning goal in the 1974 World Cup Final against Netherlands.
“That’s how that little man get’s ‘em”, cried commentator Hugh Johns, as Müller swivelled and fired a shot past Jongbloed to give the Germans the lead having gone a goal down early on.
It was his 14th goal in World Cup matches, a record which stood for 32 years. It was also his 68th goal for his country, in what would be his 62nd and final appearance in a West German shirt.
Müller spent 15 years at Bayern Munich scoring a record 365 goals in 427 appearances in the Bundesliga, and 66 goals in 74 European matches.
Nicknamed “Der Bomber”, his career is simply littered with accolades.
He won European Footballer of the Year in 1970. At Mexico ’70 he won the Golden Boot for his ten goals from six matches in the tournament. In 1972 his goals helped West Germany win their first European Championship. Two years later he was influential in them lifting the World Cup.
Domestically he was a god. Voted German Footballer of the Year twice in 1967 and 1969, he won four Bundesliga titles and four DFB-Pokal (German Cup) trophies. He was top scorer in a Bundesliga season on seven occasions.
He was an integral part of the Bayern side which won a hat-trick of European Cups between 1974-1976. He was also in the side which lifted the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1967.
A measure of the esteem he is held at Bayern can be found in the President’s comments after his death;
“Without Gerd Müller, Bayern would not have been the club we love today. He was the greatest striker of all time.”
England, particularly suffered at the feet of the diminutive striker. In the 1970 World Cup Quarter-Final in Léon West Germany came from 0-2 to win 3-2. Müller scoring the winning goal. Then two years later he again scored the Germans’ third goal in a 3-1 win at Wembley in the 1972 European Championship Quarter-Final. His goal that night was similar to his goal in the World Cup Final, where he turned on a sixpence.
Müller went on to score twice in the Semi-Final against Belgium and twice in the Final against USSR. When they lifted the World Cup two years later, they became the first team to hold both trophies at the same time.
He seemed to enjoy playing against USSR as he’d scored all four goals against them in a 4-1 friendly win just three weeks earlier. In all he scored seven of his 68 international goals against the Soviets.
Evidence of how good a goalscorer he was going to be for his country came in just his third appearance. He’d scored his first goal the previous season, but in April 1967 he scored four goals in a 6-0 win over Albania. This was only his third cap.
It was one of four occasions when he hit four in a match. In all he scored eight hat-tricks for his country, including two in the 1970 World Cup.
In his book, “Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football”, author David Winner writes;
“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, and uncanny goalscoring instincts. His short legs gave him a 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.”
Born in the Bavarian town of Nördlingen in November 1945, he began his professional career with his local club, TSV 1861 Nördlingen. After his first season he already had over 50 goals on his CV. He then joined Bayern Munich in 1964, who at the time were a division lower than the Bundesliga. In fact, at the time Bayern had just one league title to their name and were hardly the dominant force they are today. With Müller in their ranks alongside players such as Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier they were soon promoted. Müller banging in 33 goals in 26 matches to help them go up. A dynasty was born.
Two years into the Bundesliga and they won the German Cup, which they then successfully defended a year later, as Müller bagged a brace. They went onto represent West Germany in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and Müller’s hat-trick in the Semi-Final against Standard Liege helped them reach the Final where they beat Glasgow Rangers.
His first league title came in 1968-69 when they won the league and cup ‘double’. Müller scored 30 goals in as many league matches and another double in the Cup Final.
From 1971 to 1974 his life was just winners’ medal after winners’ medal. He won his fourth German Cup in 1971, then in 1972 came the European Championship and his second Bundesliga. In 1973 his third Bundesliga arrived and in 1974 his fourth league title and of course the World Cup.
Up to that point Bayern had not been successful in the European Cup, but in 1974 that all changed. His eight goals in their campaign saw them beat Atlético Madrid after a replay to win their first trophy. Müller scored twice in the replay.
He scored five in the competition a year later, including Bayern’s second in a controversial Final against Leeds in Paris. Another five followed the next season as their hat-trick of European Cups came with a win at Hampden Park over St. Etienne. He didn’t score in the Final, but he scored all three goals in their Semi-Final win over Real Madrid.
Müller remained at Bayern until 1979. He’d scored over 40 goals on six of the 14 seasons he was at the club. In 1972 and 1973 he scored 50 and 66 goals in all competitions respectively.
From Bayern he followed his friend and captain, Franz Beckenbauer when he joined the successful North American Soccer League with Fort Lauderdale Strikers. In three seasons he banged in another 40 goals. In his second season, 1980 he was instrumental in helping the club reach the Soccer Bowl where he lined up against Beckenbauer’s New York Cosmos. It wasn’t a happy occasion as they lost 0-3 with Müller leaving the pitch just before half-time.
By the time he called it a day the league had fallen on hard times and lasted just two more seasons.
His overall career statistics are stunning. According to “rssf.com” he scored 735 goals in 793 official matches. This puts him 12th on the all-time list. Taking into account friendlies and benefits matches he scored an incredible 1,226 in 1,483 matches. His 1,000th career goal was his last for West Germany in the 1974 World Cup Final. He scored just over 1,000 goals for Bayern, alone. His 1,000th came against Frankfurt in February 1979. He promptly requested a transfer straight after.
His record of 68 international goals for his country stood for four decades, until Miroslav Klose surpassed it in 2014. Although Klose took 132 games to Müller’s 62.
In 2015 Bayern released a statement he was now suffering from Alzheimer’s and on 15 August 2021 they announced the sad news of his death.
Bayern chief executive officer, Oliver Kahn, also paid tribute;
“The news of Gerd Müller’s death deeply saddens us all. He’s one of the greatest legends in the history of FC Bayern. His achievements are unrivalled to this day and will forever be a part of the great history of FC Bayern and all of German football. As a player and a person Gerd Müller stands for FC Bayern and its development into one of the biggest clubs in the world like no other. Gerd will forever be in our hearts.”
Bayern players wore specially made warm-up shirts with “Müller 9” on the back, for their Super Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. Ahead of the game both teams fell silent to pay their respects, while shirts emblazoned with Müller’s name were held aloft. Applause then broke out around the ground.
Tributes poured in throughout the football world including Pep Guardiola
“A true legend not only for FC Bayern and Germany but also for football. The best striker in history. My condolences to his family and friends and Bayern fans. RIP Gerd Müller”
Gary Lineker tweeted;
“Very sorry to hear that Gerd Müller has passed away. Loved watching him as a child and learnt so much from doing so. The greatest penalty box goal scorer I’ve ever seen. #RIPGerd”
Müller leaves behind his wife Uschi of more than 50 years, and daughter Nicole.
It’s difficult to assess and compare the quality of players from different eras. But for me it comes down to looking at the records they set and how long it took others to break them. When you consider the playing conditions Müller was up against. The tackle from behind, the back pass rule, the standard of the pitches, the leniency of referees. These are all factors today’s strikers never have to deal with. Yet even with the leap in coaching techniques, dietary advice and the availability to view any opponent in advance, it’s still taken years for players to match his record. Despite all that, only a couple of players have emerged from the pack to even challenge him.