Francesco Totti has retired, while Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player. But Thomas Müller is showing there’s still such a thing as a one-club man. As the 32-year-old celebrates becoming the most decorated player in Bundesliga history with 11 titles, bundesliga.com charts his journey from promising local boy to bona fida Bayern Munich legend.
There’s more to being Müller than being Bavarian, of course, but it definitely helps – that much is obvious when he does the rounds of the FCB supporters’ clubs in the run-up to Christmas. Born in Weilheim, young Thomas grew up in the small village of Pähl, around 30 miles southwest of Munich. He joined Bayern as a 10-year-old in the summer of 2000, and quickly set about climbing through the club ranks. He enjoyed a breakout season with the U19s in 2007/08, hitting 18 goals in 26 games – and catching the eye of then head coach Jürgen Klinsmann.
“I didn’t pick up the phone at first,” Müller admitted, when the 1990 FIFA World Cup winner called to announce his promotion to the first team squad. “But when I listened to my voicemail later, it was Jürgen Klinsmann.”
Müller made his Bundesliga debut a month before his 19th birthday, coming on as a late substitute for Miroslav Klose against Hamburg on the opening day in 2008/09. Now, well over a decade later, he has made over 600 senior appearances for the club, including more than 400 in the Bundesliga, but back then, nothing hinted at the remarkable career path that lay in store.
Impressing Van Gaal
After that fleeting cameo against HSV, Müller spent the remainder of the season with the reserves, netting an impressive 15 goals in the third tier. He was recalled to the first team in the latter stages of the campaign, making another three substitute appearances, but it was only in 2009/10 that he really began to make a name for himself.
Klinsmann left Bayern and was replaced by Louis van Gaal, who instantly recognised Müller’s immense potential. Incredibly – for someone with just 28 minutes of top-flight football under his belt – Müller featured in every single game of the season, repaying Van Gaal’s faith with 13 goals and 10 assists as Bayern completed a Bundesliga and DFB Cup double.
“Even if Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are available, Müller will always play in my team,” Van Gaal famously said at the time. To this day, Müller credits the Dutch tactician with playing a crucial role in his development.
“He threw me in at the deep end,” the Bayern forward explained to Goal in 2016. “I made my debut before he arrived, but he then relied on me continually. For us players, it’s difficult to talk about coaches while we’re still active. But I would say that my biggest influence was Louis van Gaal, because I was at the best age to be influenced.”
Voted Germany’s Young Player of the Year and included in the Bundesliga Team of the Season, Müller was ready to take his newfound status global. He made just his third appearance for Die Mannschaft in the 2010 FIFA World Cup opener against Australia, scoring his first international goal and laying on another for Lukas Podolski in a 4-0 win.
Two more goals and an assist came in the last-16 dismissal of England, followed by the opener in the quarter-final thrashing of Argentina. Agonisingly, Müller missed the semi-final defeat against Spain due to suspension, but returned to score his fifth goal of the tournament as Germany pipped Uruguay to third place. At just 20 years of age, Müller flew home from South Africa with the Golden Boot and a growing reputation as one of world football’s new wunderkinds on the block.
Champions League heartbreak and heroics
After extending his contract with Bayern through to 2015, Müller continued to flourish, notching up 21 goals and 28 assists over the next two seasons. But success began to prove elusive for the record champions. Not only did they fail to lift the Bundesliga crown in that period – with Borussia Dortmund claiming back-to-back titles under Jürgen Klopp – they also struggled to establish their supremacy on the continent.
In May 2012, the stage was perfectly set. Bayern welcomed Chelsea to the Allianz Arena for the UEFA Champions League final, looking to erase a 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan in the 2010 showpiece. In the 83rd minute, Müller broke the deadlock with a close-range header, a goal which looked sure to secure Bayern their fifth European crown – and scored by a Bavarian, no less. But it was not to be – Didier Drogba equalised minutes later, and the English side eventually triumphed on penalties.
Many observers described the defeat as worse than the 1999 Champions League final, when Manchester United scored twice in injury time to snatch the trophy away from Bayern. But from the ashes of their agonising loss on home soil, Jupp Heynckes’ side rose like a phoenix to enjoy the most successful campaign of any side in German footballing history in 2012/13, culminating in a historic treble of Bundesliga, DFB Cup and that long-awaited Champions League.
“We have to win,” Müller warned ahead of the first all-German final against Dortmund at Wembley. “If you lose three finals in four seasons you are going to be labelled chokers. We could win a lot in London – but we could lose a lot, too.”
Luckily for Bayern, win they did – and while it was Robben who had the honour of netting the decisive goal at Wembley, Müller finished the European campaign as Bayern’s top scorer with eight goals – including three in the 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the semi-finals. The self-styled Raumdeuter also contributed 13 goals and 13 assists in the Bundesliga, plus a goal and an assist in the 3-2 DFB Cup final win over VfB Stuttgart.