Interview: Thomas Müller, FC Bayern München

Image Credit (Bundesliga Content Hub Images)

Your role in the team has changed slightly throughout your career. How would you describe your role now? What is perhaps your most important task at the moment?

“The role of any player normally changes over time, during a season or a game. The style of the coaches changes as well and 20 years ago it was not as detailed as it is now. Every coach at this level tries to adapt the positions, maybe sometimes down to the last centimetre. Everything has changed a little bit but, in general, I was always an offensive player and always tried to find direct ways to the opponent’s goal. Especially after I had Hermann Gerland in the second team, I was always working harder than a normal offensive player because when you didn’t work hard with Hermann Gerland, he cracked the whip. I try to be in the spaces I like to be in. You have to adapt to the players next to you because you have to watch out for their strengths and weaknesses to set them up in the best way. I started playing with very ball-dominant players like Ribéry and Robben, so I had a bit more of a passive and space-creating role. The players then changed from Ribéry and Robben to Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, and Robert Lewandowski, who are players who want to shoot at goal and who want the ball in the final third. They are not as ball-dominant apart from maybe Kingsley. My role then changed to setting goals up more than being the goal scorer.”

Do you see things in terms of position or more in terms of how you can stress the opponent as much as possible?

“That is always in your mind, but you always stick to the plan that the coach made for the team and you. Not every game has the same plan. For example, before the season everyone was wondering whether Bayern’s number 10 was Musiala or Müller, we are both players who love to play in the centre, but Jamal and I both play different positions in different kinds of games and not really the classic number 10 role.”

What is your current role off the pitch and how has it changed over the years?

“In the beginning, you try to play your role and you’re happy to be on the pitch and to be fit. You have to watch that everything goes well, but maybe in my early 20s, I had a good connection to the captains and the very important players in the beginning such as Mark van Bommel and then Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. I played a good role in important games, so I had a good connection with these guys. Year after year, you become more involved in team discussions and you try to be involved with the team not only through your actions on the pitch but also next to the pitch. You take on more responsibility for the whole group over the years and maybe this role has also been changing a bit last year and this year and next year. It is now about waiting for the next guys to come through to take on more responsibility and maybe I am now on the way to reducing my responsibilities because I am not on the pitch for 90 minutes every game right now. The younger guys have to step up.”

And how is it for you to transfer the responsibility more to the young players?

“It’s a normal way of life. I try to be the best help and the best buddy for them in all circumstances. I do everything so that my club and my team are successful and sometimes it works out better than in other games. This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster for us with highs and lows and we are working on it.”

How do you explain the, as you just called it, “rollercoaster year” 2023?

“I don’t think it’s necessary to explain it, but we must figure out or find a clear explanation for ourselves so that we can change it. But I don’t need to explain what I think in front of the camera. We must try to play good games week in and week out, but every team wants that and only the very best teams can do it consistently.”

After winning so confidently against Paris St. Germain, the defeat against Leverkusen came as a surprise. How do you explain it?

“Our goal and our must-have is to win the German Bundesliga title, for sure. The pressure is on now for the next game against Dortmund and I think you have prepared a lot of questions about the Klassiker. When the season started again in 2023, the circumstances were different and we created our problems a little bit, so now we have to solve them. That’s what we have to do.”

You have been a professional for a long time now. Which things do you enjoy more today than when you were younger – and which less?

“We are always on the hunt for this feeling when you are successful, and this hasn’t changed. These moments when you win at home against PSG and the whole stadium is cheering, these are the moments you train for. The setup for the Klassiker is very good to get these emotions again, but we still have to work hard for that.”

In the Bundesliga, FC Bayern has not lost at home to BVB since 2014. How do you always manage to impress and often dominate in this match, in Munich in particular?

“Borussia Dortmund is, and always was, a team that wants to play offensive football with good offensive players. This means that it is quite normal that there are a lot of goals in these games. Our record against them sounds pretty good and it also felt very good in the last years, so we want to continue this. When you look at Dortmund right now, they have had very good results and they are conceding fewer goals, so we will see what happens.

If you had to describe this duel to an outsider who knows little about the Klassiker, how would you do it, and why should they watch it?

“Dear outsider, watch it and then you will see why! It’s a very intense football match between the two biggest clubs in Germany and we are waiting for you!”

The starting position for the Klassiker against Dortmund is unusual because FC Bayern is in the role of the chaser. To what extent does that play a role in your mind?

“It’s a bad feeling at first because you need to find your feet when you have been flipped from the hunted to the hunter. That happened last Sunday and the feelings for the first three days after that were very bad. You think a lot about it and when we start again next week with our preparation for the Klassiker, we will talk about it and what we can maybe adapt in the small details. We will then go for it with our fans in the Allianz Arena and with these kinds of games such as the one against PSG in mind. We are used to performing under pressure, but there’s no guarantee. It’s important to not feel safe and to have these kinds of emotions in your stomach. The importance of this game is maybe much higher than it has been in previous years because of the situation.”

Bayern vs. BVB was not always the big top match in the history of the Bundesliga and there used to be other duels. What do you think are the legendary stories or scenes that made this game what it is today?

“My real rival was always Borussia Dortmund in my career because they were the only team that could compete with us. Maybe not every year, but they were our biggest competitor in most years. I won the title in 2010, but at the beginning of my career in 2011 and 2012, we had big problems with them.”

Think back to the duels with BVB in 2011/2012, of which FC Bayern lost a few. In particular, the defeat in the 2012 cup final. Please take us into your world of thoughts back then. Frustration? Anger?

“I think Uli Hoeneß said previously that this big defeat in the cup final in 2012 when we lost 5-2 was not just a win for Dortmund, they humiliated us. We then got Robert Lewandowski and Mario Götze from them, as well as my friend Mats Hummels, so I think we started to attack them not only on the pitch but also off the pitch. In the following years, we did better than them.”

Is there one or more Klassikers that you have particularly fond memories of?

“One of the most important games in my career was the Champions League final at Wembley. That was the biggest game against them, and it was also very close. In the first 15 minutes, they were the better team but after that, we took over and it was very close in the end.”

What do you remember of this real rivalry of the Klassiker?

“You always felt as a player that when this game was coming up, not only domestic audiences but also international audiences were interested in these games. It was always a football festival with classy players, and they were never boring games. At this time, both teams had big players and most of the time, a big player at Dortmund became a really big player at one of the biggest teams in Europe a few years later. You can see the great talents they have developed such as Dembélé, Aubameyang, Haaland, Sancho and so on. They have had a lot of very good players and you need big players for big games.”

In the first game against BVB, you conceded a very late goal. Rather untypical for FC Bayern, wasn’t it?

“We feel that we have had these kinds of games all season in which we know that we are not unbeatable. That’s not a good feeling, but that’s the reality and we have to deal with it. We have also had the experience this season of games where we have put in a very good performance. When you look at our Champions League season, we have had eight games against big names and big teams, and we only conceded two goals in eight games. We played against Inter Milan, Barcelona twice, and PSG twice, and we only conceded a goal in one match at Viktoria Plzeň. You can see the potential when the pressure is on, but it’s not a given that we can show it every time again. We know what we can do and that’s a good feeling, so maybe we can talk again after the Klassiker.”

How would you explain losing games this year that FC Bayern would not normally lose?

“Maybe in some of these games and during some periods of these games, we have not been as sharp as we are during the games on the bigger stage in the Champions League. When I say this, it’s sometimes interpreted as being an issue of mentality. Maybe it is a little bit mental because we differentiate between these types of games when we are honest with ourselves. If you look at the Klassiker, this is one of those games where we normally perform, so we have to be there, but April as a whole is unbelievable for us. We have the cup against Freiburg, who is also a very good team in Germany, we are playing against Dortmund, we are playing twice against Manchester City, and we also have to play in the Bundesliga. There is nothing to lose, so the pressure is on and maybe after April we can talk about whether we are the team to be remembered or not.”

You said in an interview in Leverkusen that you have to win the Klassiker. How decisive is this match in terms of the championship?

“It could be, but it’s only one game and I think we have nine left. One out of nine does not seem like a decider, but maybe it shows us the direction it’s going.”

FC Bayern is – as so often at this point in the season – still in the fight for three titles. How do you feel about the Champions League quarter-finals against Man City and Pep Guardiola?

“I was waiting for this for a long time, but I also wasn’t at the same time because I played in his teams for three years and I didn’t get the impression that the opposing teams were very happy to play against Pep teams! You can be successful, and you can beat everybody Man City has very good players, but the style of the Pep teams means a lot of running for the opposing team. I trained very hard today and yesterday with our fitness guru, Holger Broich, so maybe I am well prepared for running, but I think there are maybe teams who are more fun to play against. However, we have been very sharp and very good in our performances and results in these kinds of games this season, so we are confident. We played City in pre-season, so we all know that when City is on a good run, it means that you have to suffer for maybe more than five minutes during the game.”

Did working under Pep Guardiola alter the way that you saw things as a player?

“For sure. You are influenced by these guys around you every day and Pep is a strong influencer. He shows you a lot and I was always open-minded and tried to pick out what was helping me or what was helping the team. He taught me the kind of positioning and the kind of preparation for an attack and the most important thing in my mind was discipline. The discipline of his teams was better than in any teams I have played in. I don’t mean the discipline of being on time, which is also an important aspect, but the discipline on the pitch of the movements and of the defenders and the whole team on the ball and off the ball. When you look at our records, I think we hardly conceded 20 goals a season with Pep and that’s remarkable.”

What do you think about facing Erling Haaland?

“He’s an unbelievable striker, but in a team like Dortmund, he had no chance against us in the last years. It’s a funny story because we lost 1-0 against City in pre-season and we spoke for a few seconds after the game and he said he had finally beaten us!”

Regarding the national team: After I saw your interview after the match against Costa Rica, I thought you would retire. You haven’t done that yet. How do you see the situation?

“In the first minutes of that interview, I shared my thoughts about the game, and I answered the questions. In the end, your colleague asked me about my situation, and I thought I maybe wanted to share my thoughts. I was influenced by the stadium and the emotions there and I said something special, but nothing unrealistic. I said that if this was my last game, I wanted to say thank you and that I enjoyed the journey because, after a moment like that, you don’t know what the future will hold. I did not retire because I don’t think it’s very respectful to egoistically say “I retire”. But even if you haven’t retired, it doesn’t mean that you have to be there just because you have been there for the last 10 years. I always wanted to give my national team coach the possibility and the option that he can call me and then I will come. The German national team is not there for my personal goals or to have a good time. I am there for the German team if they want to use me as a player with all my attributes, positive and negative. That is what is going on and those were my thoughts after the game. It was more emotional and less thinking during that interview.”

Your former teammate on the national team Mesut Özil just ended his career. How was it to play with him?

“I had a good connection with him. We were the upcoming young guns at the time and it was an unbelievably good time. When you look back and you try to remember, you may only remember the good things, but my journey in the national team with Mesut started in 2010. I started in March and then the World Cup in 2010 was not only special for me because Mesut also put in a great performance there. We then had the World Cup in 2014 and Mesut and I were both in the team in 2018 too. We had perfect energy on the pitch in the first years and he was also the player for the give-and-go and he set you up perfectly, so I enjoyed playing with him. I remember one game, which I think was a friendly against the Netherlands in Hamburg, which felt like an outstanding moment in German football. We played such good football that we were not used to and we were so dominant against a team from the Netherlands. I remember that game well, even though we were not in the best shape at Bayern at the time. I was combining with him and Toni Kroos and Miro Klose and we had a great connection on the pitch. So, Mesut, thank you very much, it was a pleasure and I hope we will see you soon and we can get together.”

Bastian Schweinsteiger will be at the Klassiker for ESPN. Are you still in contact with him?

“Nowadays, he’s called the white fox because of the colour of his hair. I’m joking, he’s not called the white fox! I have a good relationship with him and we get together in the summer to play golf. He’s sometimes in my area and he likes to ski a lot in the winter. Skiing is maybe not the best idea for me at the moment, but we are very good friends.”

Where does your sense of humour come from?

“Maybe I have to ask my mother. I was always open-minded and I try to talk a lot with my guys. I try to have as much fun as I can during the day. In the past, I used to just have to play football all day long to have fun, but maybe now it’s a bit different. I had no boot camp to learn my humour, so I think it must come naturally.”

Image Credit (Bundesliga Content Hub Images)

Thomas Müller surprises Dan-Axel Zagadou of VfB Stuttgart during the Bundesliga match between VfB Stuttgart and FC Bayern München at Mercedes-Benz Arena, Stuttgart on 4 March 2023.