I am going to start this tribute with a song:
The chorus to this song, the lyric which makes it tick, can be translated as follows:
“Then there’s a boom, then there’s a roar, and everyone shouts, ‘Yes, Muller’s scored!’”
That very Gerd Müller, who scored as if scoring was as necessary as breathing was for his existence, barely opened his eyes in his final years; he lived in a care home for approximately the last five years of his life due to severe dementia. Per his wife, Uschi:
He hardly eats anything at all now, can barely swallow, is in bed for almost 24 hours a day and is only awake for a few moments. It’s so lovely when he opens his eyes briefly. He’s always been a fighter, he was brave his whole life. And he’s the same now.
Müller’s wife had a point: Gerd was always a fighter; he was brave his whole life.
Considering the legendary striker scored 365 goals in 427 matches in the Bundesliga, you would think he didn’t have hardships. He was naturally talented and his talent did the talking.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Due to his goal scoring exploits in his youth, despite his stocky build, a club in the second tier of German football, your very own Bayern Munich, took a chance on him early on in his career. And yet, the coach at the time, Zlatko Cajkowski, did not allow their new acquisition to set foot on the pitch until October, and that too, due to pressure from then club president, Wilhelm Neudecker.
Müller, who had considered going home due to his unhappiness, took the chance and scored on his debut. Bayern would end that season with promotion to the Bundesliga.
As the years rolled by, Müller became almost unplayable, scoring ten goals in the 1970 World Cup and making a habit of winning the Torjägerkanone. Despite having won three Bundesliga top scorer awards, nonetheless, the striker arrived for training, in the summer of 1971, motivated to do better. He had been tipped by two goals to the top scorer crown in the 1970/1971 season.
The start of the 1971/1972 season was not pleasant for him; he stood on four goals after 10 games — that is not a poor return by any means but that was not the kind of return Müller was looking for. Then, in October, he really got going, scoring five goals in two games. By the time the season ended, he had scored 40 goals; he watched from the sidelines (thankfully for Robert Lewandowski) as Bayern won the title against Schalke, having decided that he wanted to rest up before the Euros and having secured the Torjägerkanone. Ultimately, Müller would end that calendar year with 151 goals in 100 games for club and country.
Gerd is the origin. In my eyes, he’s the most important player in the history of FC Bayern. Sometimes you get classifications like ‘most valuable player’. He was that. Gerd was the MVP. In that respect, he was also the most important.
They called him “short, fat, Müller”; and yet, he could turn with remarkable accuracy and he could score all kinds of goals. When I watched highlights of the Bayern legend, that’s what caught me off guard. One would think he was a poacher; he was so much more — he could do it all and, he could do it all in important finals too, having scored in World Cup, Intercontinental Cup, DFB-Pokal, European Championship and European Cup finals. One of his two goals against Atletico Madrid in the 1974 European Cup final replay, an audacious lob, is worth watching again and again.
FC Bayern produced a fantastic documentary about Müller and what struck me was just how much he wanted to score at all times among other facets. Even in friendlies, he seemed to want to score by account of his former teammates. More so, he had the humility to try everything. He once played in goal for three minutes when Sepp Maier was being treated for an injury; he once deputized at left-back; he even tried his hand at refereeing and coaching at the amateur level.
From the documentary, I found out that his teammates knew of his humility; der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, spoke of how Müller helped him remain calm the night before matches, while Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spoke about how the striker wanted to be referred to as Gerd and not Herr Müller by a new signing such as Rummenigge was in 1974. After first signing for Bayern, Müller would take the tram to the training ground. During his holidays, he would sign autographs patiently, no matter how many people asked.
As the documentary gears to the end, a familiar face, physically very different from his namesake, shows up. Thomas Müller speaks about being coached by Gerd; the Raumdeuter knows how to interpret space on the pitch like no other, having been coached by someone who could exploit limited space like no other on the pitch. He wasn’t the only one to have learned from the German striker; Bastian Schweinsteiger was another of those lucky enough to be coached by the legend:
Thank you, Gerd! Without this man, @FCBayern would not be like it is today and most of our careers would probably not have been possible. My thoughts are with his family, I am grateful to call him one of my coaches… pic.twitter.com/l9A0JdPV35— Bastian Schweinsteiger (@BSchweinsteiger) August 15, 2021
Gerd Müller’s time in the youth setup at Bayern might have helped him more than we might ever know. His battle with addiction is well known and it is his former teammates Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness, at the time executives at Bayern, who ensured that he entered a clinic to get treated. Bayern paid for the treatment and then, offered him work; he greeted visitors to the club before joining the coaching team at youth level. He remained part of the club until Alzheimer's struck.
I knew about Gerd Müller’s addiction long before I knew of all of his personal accolades (he won the Ballon d’Or in 1970 for example). I knew of his goals too. But more than anything, I knew of his legendary status in the game and his ties to FC Bayern. When Thomas Müller first started heading toward stardom, I remember seeing his pictures with Gerd; I remember seeing Gerd Müller in the sidelines at the Allianz Arena.
Gerd went as quietly as he lived his personal life. There were no black armbands worldwide as there was after the passing of Diego Maradona. There was not much talk, either. Yet, those who spoke only had words of admiration for him.
Bayern fans around the world, including the one writing this, are mourning. I shed more tears than I thought I would for Gerd. He meant a lot and he meant a lot quietly.
In a way, it is almost a solace to me that at the time when Gerd passed away, his club has the greatest number nine up front — someone also chasing his seventh top scorer crown in Germany (Gerd won the cannon seven times) and someone who can also do it all much like Gerd could. He does not have the physique of “kleines, dickes, Müller” and is quite elegantly built but, I hope he continues to do Bayern proud by emulating the man whose single season goal record he broke last season.
Before I end this tribute, here are the thoughts of some of our writers:
Schnitzel01: Well, I haven’t been alive long enough to have actually witnessed Gerd Müller play live, but I have watched various highlight reels and videos of him playing, celebrating, etc. and I have never felt anything but respect and admiration for Der Bomber. Arguably one of the best footballers to have ever graced the planet, he’s played a huge role in Bayern Munich’s journey, and the club stands where it is today thanks in no small part to his contributions.
It was when Lewandowski broke Gerd’s single season record last season that I truly came to understand what a crazy record that was. He scored 566 goals in 607 games for Bayern (career) which is insane, and very difficult for me to comprehend. But aside from all that, all his peers, family members and acquaintances have had nothing but great things to say about his character and personality, which makes this even more saddening than it already is. In Gerd we’ve lost a true gem of a man, the likes of whom we may never see again. I will take solace in the fact that his exploits and legacy will live on forever in the hearts and minds of every Bayern fan, and in that sense, he’ll never leave us.
CSmith: I was too young (believe it or not) to experience Gerd Müller, but I was not ignorant to his greatness or his impact on the game. One of the sport’s legendary scorers, Müller was not just incredible on the pitch, but also someone the average person could relate to. For all of his talent and skill, he had flaws just like us. A battler on-and-off the pitch, Müller should be remembered for the joy he brought to fans during his era and appreciated by those fans too young to have witnessed him. Forever known for his pace and “nose for goal”, not even Der Bomber could outrun the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Kudos to a terrific career as a player and fine life as a person...there will never be another Gerd Müller.
Teddy Son: I only knew Gerd Müller from videos and words. But what I did know about him was that he was one of a kind. A striker that struck fear and wonder into the oppositions’ hearts. A striker that scored goals for fun, for both club and country. A striker who anyone in the world would have been thrilled to have on his or her team. There are just so many superlatives that can describe this amazing man, and I’m afraid my words fail to describe just what kind of freak of nature Der Bomber really was. It was a privilege to have him at Bayern, and it is a great honor to call him one of the greatest legends of our club.
It broke my heart to hear that he was suffering so much at the end of his fruitful life. While it deeply struck me that he was finally gone for good, a part of me was happy that he would no longer be in pain. The nation’s Bomber has now soared free into the heavens, and I firmly hope and believe that he will be safe and happy in the good place that he will undoubtedly end up in. Gerd may be gone, but the legacy, memories, and love that he left behind are immortal. He will always be remembered fondly as the greatest striker to play the beautiful game, and as a player that gifted happiness and joy to millions.
Danke für alles, Herr Müller. Ruhe in Frieden.
No tribute could do justice to the great Gerd Müller. Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.