Thomas Müller: Fear of failure doesn't help
© Photos: Peter Schreiber, Frank Bauer
Always in a good mood, relaxed and funny - that's how Thomas Müller is known. But what does he see when he looks in the mirror in the morning? In our members' magazine "51" he talks about his journey at FC Bayern, his way of life, and the feeling of happiness when his horses happily nibble their hay in the evening.
Thomas, before we talk about you being the record champion of the record champions: At the end of the season you trained with a huge video screen. Does the longest-serving Bayern player often want something new?
"No, it's not just about 'something new'. I've been here for a long time and I immediately saw the constructive use for this device. The coach can show us his theory immediately before the practical exercise - and illustrate better what is important to him. That makes it easier for everyone involved. Otherwise you sit inside before training and get one bit of information after the other for 15, 20 minutes, which you then have to remember in detail on the pitch half an hour later. It's not hocus-pocus, it's very practical."
Recently it's been said the league will only be exciting if FC Bayern have a car crash - Thomas Müller won't be doing any favours behind the wheel…
"I'm not the only one behind the wheel, but the answer is of course: no way! As competitive athletes, we're always very motivated - and we at FC Bayern are punished in public if we 'only' win 3-0. The expectations here are so high they spur you on all the time. I don't see any natural mechanism that could slow us down. In the coming years, I assume FC Bayern will always get between 75 and 85 points each season. That means if another team wants to become champions, they have to be able to beat that score. We will not drop in quality. We have a working power steering, and I'm the lane keeping assist Müller."
Many photos of you were taken during the photoshoot. Close up. How close do you let people get to you in general?
"Good question. Basically, our job means you shouldn't be afraid of contact. You always deal with a lot of people, as part of a team and in general in the field of professional sports. I think it's easier in life when you approach the world with an open mind. In general, I'm a curious person, I rarely say no from the start and I think to myself, in the worst case scenario I won't be any more stupid after the conversation. So I like to give others the opportunity and listen to what people have to say. I discuss my worries with a small circle of familiar people. To be honest, I do most of it with myself. I've also found time and time again that sometimes it's best to simply accept a fact, tick it off and move on."
When you look at your face in the mirror - what do you see?
"Sex appeal, unbelievable (laughing). No, seriously now: I think I see the journey that I'm on. A journey with great experiences and the people I encounter along the way. And I see more experiences to come."
What's it like being the face of FC Bayern?
"I have to disagree. I am one face among many! Of course, my face is often portrayed in public because it suits the club well in terms of sport and the Bavarian man. But we have so many great personalities at Bayern, I don't see myself as being special, because that's just not true. But it's clear I'm happy to stand for everything FC Bayern stands for."
Is it better today than it used to be - or would you rather be young again?
"I feel like I've made a little progress every year - but people tend to convince themselves of this (laughing). I'm glad about every part of my journey. I'm not a big fan of 'everything was better before'. All in all, I find my life more pleasant today than when I was a youngster. Experience makes everything more interesting, you can classify and evaluate things much better. I'm more diverse today. You grow with all these emotional chapters of your own life story, and you approach everything in a more reflective way. As a young player, you're just trying to survive in the shark tank of pro football: you kind of paddle to stay afloat. Then over the years, you learn how to paddle. If someone had told me in 2008 that I would be in the position I'm in now, I would have said: bring it on, I'm looking forward to the whole journey."
When you extended your contract, there were photos of a replica of your childhood room; a place where children dream - where are you today, somewhere between dream and reality?
"In my autograph book it did actually say 'professional footballer'. But I'm not a dreamer. People often think of me as easy-going Thomas, everything runs like clockwork, and he's funny. In truth, I always try to approach things logically and rationally. Of course I used to have all the FCB gear and a room full of posters, but I never walked around after I came to FCB when I was young and thought it was all a dream. It was always clear to me: if I don't give everything I've got, it will be over quickly. It's still the case today that my contract won't be extended and everything will work out fine, just because I was born in Bavaria.
Only wins count at FC Bayern, you learned that as a child. It's exhausting, you once said - are you afraid of the day when it gets too exhausting for you?
"No because I consciously put myself to the test on a regular basis. If I realise it's getting too exhausting for me, I can no longer face the daily competition at this level, I'll have the courage to react to it. Then the question arises as to how else I can contribute to my team. Then it will no longer be the main task to be directly involved in x goals every year, but to support others in scoring these goals. But there's still a while to go till then."
After the extension you said: Oh, that's why it took so long with the extension, you had to rebuild the childhood room . Typical Müller: commenting on everything with a grin. A gift?
"I just think if you always take everything seriously, it doesn't make it any easier. I'm annoyed about a lot of things in the world, God knows not everything is going the way we all wish it would. My way of dealing with life probably has some self-manipulation. Humour doesn't hurt. On the contrary. And my healthy environment helps me to look up. Football is beautiful, but not everything in life is."
A philosophical follow-up: How easy is it to make sure that everything doesn't always come across as too difficult?
"I don't get nervous easily, especially when it comes to football, because I know from experience I can pretty much deal with any challenge. But you gain nothing at all with a bad attitude. Setbacks are part of life - the decisive factor is what you make of them. In the long run, fear of failure doesn't help at all. I primarily see the chance we will be celebrated after a win rather than the danger we will have to accept criticism after a defeat. The prospect of the positive drives you, not the fear of the negative."
What grounds you? Do you ever muck out the horse stables at home?
"I clean the stables when it's urgent - but because they have to be cleaned, not because it grounds me. I grew up in a way that sometimes you lend a hand and it's not the end of the world if your hands get dirty. If a foal is born at night and I'm at home, I want to be there because I want to see everything is going right. If a load of hay is needed during the birth, I grab the pitchfork and shovel hay. What grounds me or where I calm down best is when we take our dog for a walk. Or when I come home in the evening and the horses are happily nibbling their hay in the stable. This calmness - I'm pretty happy with the world."
How was it for you when you handed the Meisterschale over the fence to the fans at the Allianz Arena this year?
"The fans kept joking I should come over the fence to them. They challenged me during the title celebrations and I climbed up. Honestly, it was quite a balancing act, not my comfort zone . As I was up there, they asked if I could hand them the Meisterschale, and I thought: OK, now that's really cool and a great opportunity - it's not just our success as players, it belongs to the fans as well, who have remained loyal through covid." It was a spontaneous gesture, but also a very nice moment for all of us in the team, we really enjoyed it. It was good to share the Meisterschale with everyone - and a sincere, important thank you to our fans. Happy to do it again next year!"