Gerd Mueller, prolific striker who set records but battled demons

Berlin (AFP) – Gerd Mueller’s record of 68 international goals in 62 games for West Germany earned him the nickname ‘The Bomber’ for his ability to destroy countless defences.

It took Miroslav Klose more than double the amount of games to finally reach the tally of 71 goals, in 137 internationals, to better Mueller’s mark.

In the 1971/72 season, Mueller, who died Sunday aged 75 after battling Alzheimer’s, netted an incredible 40 league goals in 34 games.

The jaw-dropping German league record stood unchallenged until Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski scored for the 41st time on the final weekend of last season.

Born on November 3, 1945, Mueller’s career coincided with a golden era for both West German football and the rise of Bayern Munich.

He was signed by Bayern, who were then a second division club, in 1964.

His short, stocky frame with a barrel-like chest led to club coach Zlatko Cajkovski quipping: “What am I supposed to do with a weightlifter?”

But Mueller’s powerful legs became the stuff of Bayern folklore — his thighs were a massive 64-centimetres in diameter — and the goals he netted wrote him into the club’s folklore.

As Mueller’s former team-mate Franz Beckenbauer said: “Everything that Bayern has become is due to Gerd Mueller and his goals.”

Before he turned 18, Mueller had progressed through a variety of school and junior teams before joining his local club TSV Nordlingen, for whom he scored a remarkable 180 goals in the 1962/63 season, which attracted Bayern’s attention.

– ‘Short, fat Mueller’ –

He put his strength down to his mother’s rich potato salad and Cajkovski affectionately referred to him as the “short, fat Mueller”.

In 1965, Mueller, goalkeeper Sepp Maier and Beckenbauer helped Bayern win promotion to the Bundesliga.

The club never looked back, finishing third in their first season in the top flight and lifting the German Cup, a feat they repeated in 1967, 1969 and 1971.

In 1970, Mueller became the first German to be crowned European Footballer of the Year. 

Bayern became German champions for the first time in 1969, then won three straight titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974.

The mark was only bettered in May 2016 when Pep Guardiola coached Bayern to a fourth straight Bundesliga title, which has since become nine in consecutive years.

Bayern’s dream team of the 1970s went on to win the European Cup three times in succession from 1974 to 1976, and Mueller’s goals — often from close range — were key.

He was the club’s top scorer every season from 1964/65 to 1977/78.

At the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, Mueller scored 10 goals to finish top scorer, before West Germany went on to win the 1972 European championships.

Mueller then wrote himself into German football folklore by scoring the winning goal to seal a 2-1 win in the 1974 World Cup final over the Netherlands in Munich.

In his 62 international appearances, West Germany enjoyed 45 wins, nine draws and just eight loses.

Then abruptly, after becoming a world champion at the age of 28, Mueller announced his retirement.

– Alcoholism and depression –

In 1979 and with his Bayern place no longer guaranteed, Mueller accepted a lucrative contract to play in the United States, signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

He retired from all football in 1982 and descended into a deep personal crisis, battling alcoholism and depression.

Bayern never forget their goal-scoring hero and Uli Hoeness, who was then team manager, helped him to get back on his feet, offering him a job meeting and greeting visitors to the club, then scouting and eventually a role coaching strikers.

Mueller earned his coaching licence in 1992 and became head coach of the reserves in 1995/96. He helped nurture current Germany star Thomas Mueller, who was no relation, at Bayern.

But he struggled with his health and his suffering was often on public display as he was seen looking unsteady on his feet at Bayern’s home games.

In October 2015, it was announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and in his later years one of football’s most prolific scorers was rarely seen in public.

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