The Ballon d’Or has caused some controversy in recent years with glaring omissions from shortlists and teams of the year, as well as some bizarre voting patterns and preferential treatment by coaches or players involved in the voting process. So, to try and bring some credibility back to football’s individual honours, we have created The Blog d’Or, where the writers of The Blog FC have whittled down a 50-man longlist to countdown the real best 23 players of the calendar year. The countdown continues here.
The Blog d’Or #7
“Brutally efficient” is perhaps the best way to describe Thomas Müller.
In 13 World Cup matches the self-proclaimed Raumdeuter has 10 goals. He won the FIFA Golden Boot at the 2010 edition – his first, at just 20 years of age – and was runner-up to James Rodriguez in 2014 in Brazil with five goals and three assists at the tournament. He should play in at least two more tournaments – possibly three if he carries on like compatriot and current World Cup top scorer Miroslav Klose – and is only six goals away from the all-time record.
Despite his Messi/Ronaldo-esque statistics – though the Argentine and Portuguese are well behind in World Cup goals with 5 in 14 and 3 in 13 respectively – the German’s style of play is in stark contrast to two of the game’s most dominant figures, and his unique, prototypical nickname reflects this – though he doesn’t do a bad job of imitating them.
Müller lacks the guile, explosive pace and picture-perfect technique of football’s big two, yet there is still a level of excellence in everything he does on the football pitch.
Not known for bursting runs from midfield, powerful long-range strikes or jinking weaves through the box, Müller is a unique attacking star in the 21st Century. While his dribbling, shooting, vision and technique are all more than sound, there is more of an all-rounder’s vibe to the German, and an almost throwback style to the way he plays the game. Most importantly though, it is mixed with almost unrivalled intelligence and awareness of the game and space on the pitch – hence the nickname (raumdeuter loosely translates to “space investigator”) – and that is the source of much of Müller’s excellence.
His easily identifiable figure and low-riding socks – unmistakably Müller – are on full display when out of possession, seeking to win the ball back by covering every blade of grass like the lawnmowers pre-match. But when his team are in possession he disappears, becoming anonymous until it is too late for the defenders to react. While the likes of Robben, Ribery or Götze are in possession, often wreaking havoc, he blends into the background, appearing at the crucial moment – often a yard in front of his man – to sweep home side-footed or muster an improvised finish. He is somewhat of a more complete, next-generation Pippo Inzaghi, though with sublime heading capabilities, an engine and an understanding of the offside rule.
His marauding, ghost-like characteristics were at their most obvious in the opening knockout stages of the Champions League in early 2014, where Müller pulled off into the space left by Claudio Pizarro and headed home Philipp Lahm’s chipped cross to give Bayern a 2-0 lead at the Emirates.
“He is an ‘anti-star’, one who goes about his business quietly and does his utmost to avoid the spotlight the majority of the time,” wrote Bundesliga Fanatic’s David Morris back in December.
“Unlike Ronaldo, Neuer and Messi, all three of whom know they are stars, Müller presents himself as an awkward and unassuming man.”
He scores goals from in and around the six-yard box, poacher’s efforts and body-on-the-line type of finishes, which can often seem fortunate but the sheer number of goals – 26 in 62 appearances for his country and 114 in 289 in all competitions for FC Bayern – indicate that there is more to it than simple luck.
“There is not the sort of skill in a Thomas Müller strike as there is in one of Ronaldo’s or Messi’s, but there is an underappreciated quality and excellence in the amount of times he is able to free himself from the opposition and get into the space to find the net,” continued Morris.
His lanky frame and awkward running style don’t match with the sharp physique and style of a Ronaldo or Hazard (and the German also defends), but Müller has become a smarter player with an incredible work-rate because of these perceived weaknesses and he now possesses unorthodox but incredibly valuable attributes that were on full display throughout the 2014 calendar year, notching over 30 goals for club and country – where his unorthodoxy also extended to free-kick routines and dancing.
The World Cup – where he was one of the best players on show – is the obvious jewel in Müller’s 2014 crown, but there was also (the expected) club success with Bayern Munich.
The Bavarian side won the league title at a canter, wrapping it up as early as March, where Müller added 13 goals and 10 assists playing in a variety of roles in Pep Guardiola’s attack. He was also pivotal in the DFB Pokal victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final, with Müller netting twice to secure the title against their nearest German rivals.
And 2014-15 has been much the same, with the Raumdeuter currently sitting on 11 goals and seven assists in the league this term – including a hat-trick against Frankfurt in November – with a further three in the Champions League where he is now Bayern’s all-time top scorer in the competition with 24 goals.
The top 10 placing is more than deserving for Müller – and he could’ve even been among the top three without debate – though he seems to care more for team success than individual accolades.
“I don’t care about this bullshit!” he exclaimed when quizzed on missing out on the Golden Boot in Brazil. “We are world champions; we have the [World] Cup. And that fucking Golden Boot? You can stick it up your arse!”
If it makes you happy, Thomas, I’ll stick this up my arse too.