Müller wants to play 'right at the top'
Monday morning at the Doha training camp was relatively quiet for Thomas Müller. After two intense workouts on the previous day, the FCB forward slowed down on the sixth day and only did regenerative exercises. "It's always arranged with the fitness coaches and physios. Sometimes it's more sensible to take a rest," Müller explained: "I think I'll resume training in the afternoon."
It was not as quiet for Müller after the session. When he left the Aspire Academy fitness area to return to the team hotel many onlookers loudly called Müller's name. The 26-year-old is one of the most popular pros in the squad when it comes to autographs and souvenir snaps.
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"The popularity is partly due to the World Cups," commented Müller. "If you're a world champion your status and image change abroad. It's been noticeable since 2014." But the hype does not bother the native Bavarian: "I'm quite relaxed when it comes to that kind of thing," he said.
The fans hold Müller in the highest esteem these days, and so do FC Bayern. The first half of the season was in many respects his best as a pro. He has scored 21 goals in competitive fixtures before the winter break – the same number as in the entire previous campaign. "Of course I'm not unhappy about my performance and strike rate. I'm making no secret of that," said the striker, but he emphasised the importance of the group as a whole: "My mood is first and foremost dependent on our success as a team."
'Thomas is Thomas'
Especially after Bastian Schweinsteiger's transfer to Manchester United last summer, Müller knows he is "a bit more in the spotlight. Of course I try to close the gap Basti left, at least to an extent." Take more responsibility on and off the pitch, but remain normal and down-to-earth: hardly any player has achieved this so well. Müller has always been able to preserve his authenticity and easy authority.
"From my point of view I haven't changed," Müller commented, "and I'm comfortable with that. I have to feel at home, I can't pretend." Team-mate Arjen Robben, who has witnessed Müller's development ever since he joined the senior squad in 2009, confirmed: "Thomas is Thomas. For me he's stayed who he always was, that's his essential quality."
Contract extension and ambitious goals
Müller extended his contract through 2021 shortly before Christmas. "It was a statement by the club and by me: we're staying together and feel at ease that way." Furthermore it was "a little sign that FC Bayern is a club you don't leave just like that. FC Bayern is more than an employer. The environment, the infrastructure, the history and the playing culture in the last few years are incentives that many other clubs or cities can't offer."
Müller and his team-mates have "ambitious goals" for the rest of the campaign: he wants to play "right at the top. We want to turn in a good second half and go for the titles again. Then we'll see what remains in the basket. Ideally everything." Thomas wants to do his bit for that: "I aim to help the team, and goals aren't bad in that respect."