Friday, November 26

Gerd Müller Was World Class, But His Brilliant Legacy Is Too Often Forgotten | Soccer


CComparisons are obnoxious and almost always absurdly reductionist, but here we go anyway. In 2012, Lionel Messi set a new record for goals scored in a calendar year. Let’s not try too hard to be iconoclastic – his 91 count with Barcelona and Argentina in 2012 was one of soccer’s monumental achievements, an astonishing long-term endeavor, even if the only medal he earned that year was the Copa del Rey. . Poor Leo didn’t get much for his money there.

The earlier mark had been left by Gerd Müller. In 1972, the man they called Kleines dickes Müller – Short Fat Müller, though he was anything but a man of average height and build – scored 85 times for Bayern Munich and West Germany. While Messi took 69 games to rack up his 91, at a rate of 1.31 goals per game, Müller only needed 60 for his grand total, bringing them to a furious 1.41 per game. Müller’s reward for his annus mirabilis? Victory in the Bundesliga and Euro 72, a tournament he possibly won alone, having turned Bobby Moore around at Wembley in the quarterfinals before scoring a double in both the semi-final and final.

Compare and contrast, then … although none of this is an attempt to denigrate the magical Messi, but rather to illustrate the unique brilliance of Müller, who has struck his last dart into the vast six-yard area in the sky. While Messi’s art guarantees him a place in the pantheon alongside the Pelés and Maradona, his Cruyffs and Beckenbauers, Müller’s legacy is unfairly stuck on the mezzanine of reputation below, clearly world-class but often forgotten when the great conversation becomes the greatest of all time. .

Genius manifests itself in different ways, and Müller’s style was utilitarian for the most part. It changed under another, better known nickname, Der Bomber, although it was a misnomer. His spikes were rarely crash-bang affairs: Most of his goals were kicked, directed, pushed, sniffed or bunched home from close range. At first glance, much of his work seems remarkably underwhelming, almost unimpressive … until you realize he was doing it every week, season after season, and it wasn’t just a scruffy hack enjoying a freak streak of blind luck.

An example can be found in the images of Müller strutting with his forensic equipment in the former Grünwalder Strasse field of Bayern Munich in the early 1970s. A cross turns from the right. Standing in the penalty area, Müller receives the ball when he falls, planting a header in the right corner. A decent ending, although in itself, the goal is not worth commenting. It’s certainly not the type of attack worth looking for on YouTube, nearly five decades after it was scored.

Gerd Müller heads the ball home for Germany against Australia during the 1974 World Cup.
Gerd Müller heads the ball home for Germany against Australia during the 1974 World Cup. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images

But let the clip roll. Seconds later, that cross re-enters. It has to be a repeat of the action: the ball travels at the same speed along the same parabola and Müller is in exactly the same position. Except no, it’s not a replay. The striker finds the ball with his head again, but this time he hits it from the bottom left. Every time the goalkeeper chases the ball; every time he has no earthly hopes of reaching it. In eight seconds of footage, Müller’s genius, if not statistically the greatest scorer of all time, then the player who distilled the art of striking into a pure tincture, is perfectly illustrated. Unexpected, unpredictable and absolutely unstoppable.

Müller’s uncertain place in the pantheon makes a little more sense when you consider the single moment that defines his career: the winning goal in the 1974 World Cup final. At first glance, everything is function over form, a short-range act of opportunism. But look at that balance again as it grabs, twists and curls gracefully in the far corner. What first seems scruffy reveals itself as a moment of pure ballistic grace. Most players would have just fallen backwards, clunked, butt. Not bad for a short fat man. Perhaps the biggest winner in any World Cup final.

Müller scored another in the second half, only for the flag to go ridiculously offside. The Germans also got a good cry from a rejected penalty, and in truth, the legend of the 1974 World Cup final, in which the Dutch deserved to win, is absurd fiction straight out of Liberty Valance’s playbook. West Germany was the best team of the day and in any case, Johan Cruyff’s romantic image is seen much better served by this near miss, while the World Cup would be seriously devalued as an existential concept if Müller had never had it in his hands the trophy. And that’s before we get to Franz Beckenbauer.

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When it comes to great players, few have delivered more than Müller, winner in the final of the World Cup, the European Championship and the European Cup, while the weight of the numbers tells its own story: 401 goals in 459 league games, 35 goals in 35 European Cups draws, 14 goals in World Cups, 68 goals in 62 games for his country.

One of the all-time greats, then, without a doubt … although if you’re still somehow unconvinced, take a quick look at his two-goal contribution to Bayern’s victory in the European Cup final in 1974 against Atlético de Madrid: a whip with the right foot from a closed angle, followed by an improvised balloon over the goalkeeper, gently landing a ball that had been falling behind him. Two sensational finals, dare we say Messi-esque? – for the greatest scorer of all time. Clinical and elegant, Der Bomber really was the bomb.


www.theguardian.com

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