Messi' s striking success this year draws parallels with the great Müller
SOCCER ANGLES: Two very different types of player, but both have proved great goalscorers, writes MICHAEL WALKER
In the weeks leading up to Euro 96 in England, one of the strange but welcome preparations saw Germany choose Belfast as their base. A particular memory is of speaking to Matthias Sammer, the great Sammer, in the Culloden hotel in Holywood.
Sammer was a giant figure, on the pitch and off it and 1996 was when he was named European Footballer of the Year. Born in Dresden, his international career began with East Germany and finished with re-unified Germany. Talk of the Berlin Wall was still around the Germany set-up then.
Another memory of that German stay on the shores of Belfast Lough was being allowed to watch them train on the pitch – possibly the same one – which is now home to Harland Wolff Welders.
At the beginning of training there was a shooting exercise. There was nothing unusual in that, it’s just that the German version featured no goalkeeper. Presumably Jurgen Klinsmann was not looking bemused because he knew what was coming next: the placement of a tiny rectangle frame on the inside of each post. This was not just shooting practice, this was bottom-corner shooting practice.
Germany had included strikers such as Klinsmann, Fredi Bobic and Oliver Bierhoff in their squad – Bierhoff would go on to score the two goals that won Germany the final at Wembley against the Czech Republic.
But if there was one German this session made you think of, it was someone not there, a much older man, it was Gerd Müller – and not just because he was once an apprentice welder.
In the mind’s eye Müller always seemed to be swivelling onto the ball about six yards out and drilling it into the bottom corner.
That is a misconception judging by a look back at his goals, many of which were headers. But there were enough that found the corner of the net. There were enough because Müller was prolific. He just scored and scored and scored.
As Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger writes in Tor, a History of German football: “Gerd Müller scored with his shin, his knee and his backside, and sometimes even with his feet. He scored in cup games against lowly opposition and on the world stage marked by the best defenders there were.
“Why he did all those things has never been conclusively explained. Some people argue that his stubby build meant he had a low centre of gravity which gave him that tenth-of-a-second edge, guaranteeing he would get to loose balls first. Others claimed he ‘sensed’ what was going to happen, as if he were an animal. All of which sadly ignores the hours of practice Müller put into honing his skills.”
That practice made Gerd Müller close to perfect. Müller scored 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany, including the winner in the 1974 World Cup final. In the Bundesliga he scored 365 times in 427 matches. For Bayern Munich he scored 398 goals in all competitions. He was European Footballer of the Year in 1970. He was German Footballer of the Year twice and top scorer seven times.
But was he as good as Lionel Messi? The question arises because in 1972 Gerd Müller scored 85 goals over the course of the calendar year. Messi has 84. Müller’s is the world record and though there is something artificial about the calendar-year total it gives an indication of just how good a striker Gerd Müller was.