In a long interview with kicker, Bayern Munich front man Thomas Muller opened up on a variety of subjects. Now in his 13th year with the club, vice-captain Muller is playing his career-best football, having scored thirteen goals and assisting another thirteen in all competitions. In the interview, the 31-year-old talked about Bundesliga title race, expectations at Bayern and his role as a leader of the team.
Coach Hansi Flick’s team has recently fought back to winning ways. There were, however, some worrying signs during the months of November-December 2020. Die Roten was leaking goals at an alarming rate, registering just one clean sheet from eleven outings in that period.
“The ease from the preseason has evaporated a bit,” Muller admitted. “In November, December 2020, we had many close results with an unusually high number of goals conceded. And that the public and the whole league are then longing for this FC Bayern to finally be knocked off the throne, I can absolutely understand.”
The Bundesliga’s Hinrunde had been nothing short of exciting with Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig forcing Bayern to remain on their toes. After the Bavarians 1-1 draw with Union Berlin, Leverkusen had gone a point clear at the top of the table.
The reigning champions, however, took back the throne two matchdays later, when Flick’s men fought back against Die Werkself to win 2-1 in the topspiel.
Leipzig, Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach have all done noteworthy work to establish themselves as Bundesliga contenders. But they all lack the necessary consistency that turned Bayern into perennial champions.
Both Leipzig and Leverkusen failed to capitalize on Die Roten’s shocking 3-2 loss to Mönchengladbach. As of now, Bayern are seven points clear at the top of a table that once had a one-point difference between first and second-placed teams.
Bayern Munich’s approach to competitions
Muller, however, explained that it isn’t due to a lack of quality in competitors, rather a difference in approach that sets the Bavarians apart.
“We shouldn’t exaggerate the fact that only FC Bayern has winning types running around and not elsewhere. That’s far too clumsy,” said the nine-time Bundesliga champion. “It’s a special challenge, you’re constantly under observation, especially at FC Bayern, there’s always a magnifying glass on it.”
Speaking of titles, few boast a trophy cabinet as glittering as Muller’s. He recently took over Bastian “Fußballgott” Schweinsteiger to become Germany’s most-decorated player with 27 titles, including two trebles and a World Cup to his name.
The awards and accolades are a result of a certain driving force — the unquenchable will to be the best, a trait shared by the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Every single player has to show himself and the outside world that he can go this level. That’s what drives you: You want to have the feeling that you belong to the best and that you are better than everyone who took part in this competition,” Muller elucidated, before adding important words of wisdom. “You don’t care about this bowl, about this trophy. You don’t care about this piece of metal. Because as soon as it’s won, it’s all about who’s going to win it next year.”
The German giants emphasize on instilling a hardworking mentality in players and in this regard, leading figures of the team have set an example for others.
“Players like Kimmich, Lewandowski, Neuer, to name a few, go home and not only think about how they can improve their own performance in the next game, but also think about what needs to be done to help the team — optimize performance,” Muller revealed.
When quizzed if he still feels comfortable in professional business despite everything, the quintuple winner replied: “Yes, absolutely. Or do people get the impression that I don’t enjoy it?”
Muller’s trophy-laden career has been filled with countless disappointments and also, learning experiences. The UEFA Champions League final defeat against Inter Milan, back-to-back-to-back semifinal exits between 2014-2016, poor form, being in the doghouse under coach Carlo Ancelotti, Germany’s group stage exit in 2018 World Cup and so on.
“Professional sport and top competition are not always pleasant,” remarked Muller. “If you want to be successful in this business, you have to be addicted to this particular challenge.”
An athlete’s competitiveness can be assessed by how he/she responds to disappointing periods. For Der Raumdeuter, the difficult challenges never dampened his love for the game. Instead, they helped him grow as a professional footballer.
One such phase occurred two seasons ago, when the attacking-midfielder was benched for seven games in a row under former coach Niko Kovac. After Kovac’s sacking, Bayern’s messiah disguised as a human was appointed — Hansi Flick. The 55-year-old reinstated normalcy and order, starting by putting faith in Bayern’s decade old servant.
An extended arm for the coach
A member of the team council, vice-captain Muller has been among the leading figures in Munich. But it’s a role he assumed after gaining adequate experience.
“In the beginning, I was just a young player, Mark van Bommel was the leading figure. Then came the Lahm-Schweinsteiger era, when you just had to do your job in your position and didn’t really care about the big picture,” the 31-year-old recalled. “You didn’t think about whether it would be better for the team if Schweinsteiger offered himself two meters further to the left.”
Muller gradually grew as a leader at Bayern, evolving into team’s chief playmaker during Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery’s twilight years. Now with players like Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich around him, he once again has the freedom to take more goal-scoring chances.
He is seen as the player-cum-coach on the field, an extended arm of his trainer. Not only can he be observed giving instructions to his teammates, Muller has involved himself in integrating newcomers at Bayern, such as Sarpreet Singh and Leroy Sane.
“My role in the team is clearly defined. That also includes consciously setting an example that, with all the talent our squad has, it’s only possible through the commitment of each individual,” he told kicker. “That’s certainly one of my strengths, that I can carry my teammates along and animate them.”
But Muller recognizes that he needs to lead by example and repay his coach’s faith in him with on-field performances.
“If it were said that I as ‘Radio Müller’ was the ‘organizer’ and had a playing radius of two meters and the fewest kilometers on the clock, I would lose credibility. Then the stove is off.”
As a matter of fact, the witty-horseman has run 214 kilometers so far in the league, highest figure from his team and fourth in the distance-covered charts. Elite players have a mindset that sets them apart and Thomas Muller is surely proving it, with his performances as well as the principles he believes in.