Munich - Few football nicknames have gained such universal currency as der Bomber, the moniker bestowed on Gerd Müller and one associated with him to this day. As it suggests, Müller's scoring prowess was so acute that the only appropriate response for opposition defenders seemed to be to wave a white flag in surrender.
"Without Müller we'd still be in our wooden hut"
Over the course of a unique career, the trained weaver displayed a nose for goal that seemed to defy logic, resulting in a record unparalleled to this day. In 427 Bundesliga appearances Müller netted 365 goals, a ratio still marvelled at decades after he hung up his boots.
A breakdown of his goals per season only goes some way to telling the story of possibly the greatest goalscorer the game has ever seen. Each and every campaign between 1966 and 1979, Müller was among the top three scorers in the Bundesliga, netting at least 20 goals. He is also the only player to be crowned the league's top scorer in three consecutive seasons (1971/72 to 1973/74) and to this day, no other player has come anywhere close to his one-season record of 40 goals from 1971/72.
FC Bayern Munich were the team to reap the harvest of this prodigious talent and nobody is more aware than honorary president Franz Beckenbauer of his significance in the Bavarian club's rise to its now dominant position within the German game: "Without Gerd Müller and his goals, we'd all still be in our little wooden hut on Säbener Straße."
Müller joining Bayern was far from pre-destined, however, and his eventual transfer was anything but smooth. An 1. FC Nuremberg fan in his youth, he caught the eye of the region's major clubs after rattling in a breathtaking 180 goals in one season for hometown club TSV Nördlingen. Legend has it that Bayern managed to steal a march on city rivals TSV 1860 Munich, then a more successful club, and convinced the young scoring ace to join them a mere hour before a planned meeting with Die Löwen. How different it all might have been.
'Short fat Müller'
Yet when he signed for the club, the teenager with the short legs and powerful thighs had a tough time breaking into the side. Coach 'Tschik' Cajkovski gave the new recruit the unflattering nickname of 'short fat Müller', likening him to a weightlifter and initially leaving him to warm the substitutes' bench. However, when the much put-upon striker finally got his chance, he swiftly started demonstrating the qualities that would eventually make him the world's best.
The first cornerstone of his reputation as one of Germany's greats was laid in 1969 when Bayern became Bundesliga champions for the first time. Between 1972 and 1974, they then secured an unprecedented three consecutive league triumphs, the latter of which inspired a trio of successive European Cups (the predecessor to today's UEFA Champions League) as the Reds went on to dominate on the continent. In 1976, a victory against South American side Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, in which Müller also scored, brought Bayern a FIFA World Club Cup trophy to add to their impressive haul, which also included four DFB Cups during Müller's time in the Bavarian capital.
He was virtually uncontrollable inside the penalty area and in an era of rigid man-marking almost invariably managed to shrug off his opponent to devastating effect. Perfect ball control, lightning speed on the turn and that aforementioned uncanny nose for goal were all his stock in trade - never more famously illustrated than in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final. His winning goal for West Germany against the legendary Dutch 'total football' masters at FC Bayern's Olympic Stadium sent an entire nation into rapture and contributed in no small part to the creation of a legend.
Retirement in America
After the triumph of 1974, Müller, then aged just 28, announced his retirement from international football, allegedly unhappy that the players' wives were not permitted to attend the post-final banquet. He bowed out having scored 68 goals in 62 matches for his country. After five more fruitful years for Bayern, he then swapped Munich for the United States in 1979, spending the next two years with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers before winding down his playing career for good with local amateur side Smith Brothers Lounge.
For another Bayern legend, current executive chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the true "glory years of FC Bayern date back to the early 1970s". It is no coincidence that this period saw Müller at the peak of his powers and neither would it be an exaggeration to say that without der Bomber, that success would not have been possible. Müller's former team-mate and the man who scored West Germany's opener in that 1974 World Cup final triumph, Paul Breitner, put it thus: "Gerd Müller is the most important footballer Germany has ever had. Him alone."
Gerd Müller's career in figures:
Date of Birth: 03.11.1945
Bundesliga appearances: 427
Bundesliga Goals: 365
Bundesliga Champion: 1969, 1972, 1973, 1974
DFB Cup Winner: 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971
European Cup Winner: 1974, 1975, 1976
Season Club Appearances/Goals:
1965/66 FC Bayern 33/15
1966/67 FC Bayern 32/28
1967/68 FC Bayern 34/19
1968/69 FC Bayern 33/30
1969/70 FC Bayern 33/38
1970/71 FC Bayern 32/22
1971/72 FC Bayern 34/40
1972/73 FC Bayern 33/36
1973/74 FC Bayern 34/30
1974/75 FC Bayern 33/23
1975/76 FC Bayern 22/23
1976/77 FC Bayern 25/28