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Never bettered

Gerd Müller celebrates his 70th birthday

The penalty box was his hunting ground. Keepers trembled whenever Gerd Müller was on the ball in the vicinity of the goal. No German striker before or after him was blessed with his deadly instinct, and none has scored as many times. Müller was a one-off and genuinely inimitable. He had lightning-quick reflexes and scored from all angles: on the deck, falling, with his left or right foot or his head. The king of the penalty area celebrates his 70th birthday on Tuesday 70.

“Without his goals FC Bayern and German football would not be what they are today,” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said of Der Bomber, who was born on 3 November 1945 in Nördlingen in Bavaria. “Gerd was and remains the best of all time, the Muhammad Ali of the penalty box.” The ultimate recognition came from his erstwhile, and even greater, team-mate Franz Beckenbauer. “All our successes would not have been possible without him. We owe him everything,” said the Kaiser.

He scored from every angle

Goals were Müller’s trademark - 68 in 62 internationals, 365 in 427 Bundesliga games, a grand total of 1,455 goals in 1,204 competitive and friendly matches. Gerd has never been able to provide a purely rational explanation for his success in front of goal: “I don’t know. You can’t learn it. You’ve got to have an instinct for it. You’ve got to be able to react quickly and shoot with both feet.”

The former player never compiled a list of his top goals but he has no doubt about the most significant strike in his professional career: “I’ve scored better ones but the most important goal was the winner against Holland in the 1974 World Cup final in Munich.” One of his inimitable twisting movements led to Germany lifting the World Cup for a second time.

“When I was a youngster and wasn’t sure what to do with the ball, I looked to get it to Gerd and he always managed to do something with it,” recalled his former team-mate Uli Hoeneß: “Gerd has made a huge contribution to Bayern’s international standing.” Müller has never had any airs and graces, added Hoeneß: “To this day, he’s been a brilliant bloke and modest despite being a world star.”

Huge medal haul

When the 18-year-old Müller left TSV Nördlingen to join second division  Bayern Munich, there was little sign he was on the verge of a fantastic career. The trained weaver received a basic weekly wage of 160 Deutsch Marks back then. Tschik Cajkowski rather mockingly called him the ‘weightlifter’ due to his powerful thighs, and the coach also gave the diminutive, rotund Müller his legendary nickname ("My small, fat Müller") later on. Müller ended his career in America 15 years later after having won everything possible with Bayern.

He was a World Cup (1974) and European Championship (1972) winner. He won the Bundesliga title and DFB Cup with Bayern four times each, the Intercontinental Cup in 1976, the European Cup three times (1974-76) and the Cup Winners Cup in 1967. He was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1970 and German Footballer of the Year in 1967 and 1969. He was the top scorer at the 1970 World Cup with ten goals, and he was the leading goalscorer in the Bundesliga seven times.

All-time records

Today’s strikers may seek to measure themselves against Gerd’s legendary stats even if that is an impossible task, as Germany front man Thomas Müller noted: “He was and still is easily the best striker Germany’s ever had.” Gerd Müller’s 40 goals in the 1971-2 Bundesliga season is the magical number. “Some records last forever,” Müller himself declared. It took fully 40 years for his tally of 68 for Germany to be beaten by former FCB striker Miroslav Klose, but Der Bomber’s strike rate of 1.1 goals per international appearance is unlikely ever to be matched.

Life has not always been a bed of roses for Müller. Glory was followed by a fall at the start of the nineties as he was almost ruined by alcohol problems. when he came back from America. “I suffered very much indeed,” he confessed. It was his former Bayern team-mates, predominately Hoeneß, who urged him to go on a detox program. He finished rehab after just four weeks. “It was quite an achievement to do that in four weeks,” he proudly declared years ago.

‘We’ll help him whenever necessary’

After 1992 Müller spent many years as a youth and reserve coach at Bayern, witnessing the progress of a great number of talented youngsters as Hermann Gerland’s assistant, including David Alaba, Holger Badstuber and his namesake Thomas Müller. “We’re immensely grateful to him for that,” commented Rummenigge. Der Bomber even appeared alongside the 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner in a TV advert. Gerd Müller is particularly happy that Thomas is proving such a big success at Bayern: “He’s my number one.”

“Gerd is one of my big role models,” the current Bayern striker said. “I had the privilege of getting to know him when I joined the reserves as a young player. We got along really well from the start.” Müller is as shocked and devastated as anyone by the news that his namesake is seriously ill with Alzheimer’s disease. “But he’ll deal with the condition just as I know he will, with a lot of courage and a positive disposition.” Rummenigge promised: “FC Bayern will always support Gerd Müller and his family and help him whenever necessary.”