A vital cog in the FC Bayern machine which stormed to an unprecedented Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup treble last season, Thomas Müller has seamlessly adapted to the regime of new head coach Pep Guardiola, once again demonstrating the understated versatility that has been the trademark of his still-burgeoning career.
Midfielder with a striker's scoring rate
Given his big break by Louis van Gaal with a shotgun promotion from the Under-19s in 2009/10, Müller has been a first-team regular ever since, whether under the Dutch tactician, his successor Jupp Heynckes or, now, Guardiola. The 24-year-old Bavarian talent, who came up through the club's youth ranks from the age of eleven onwards, has proved remarkably hard to pin down both on the pitch and off it, with analysts at times struggling to define precisely what makes him so effective and indispensable a member of the team.
Müller himself, fresh from rounding out a sensational debut professional season with the golden boot for top scorer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, aptly described his particular talent as “a kind of spatial instinct.” It is one that has served him well enough to make him good for a goal every three games on average for both club and country, quite a return from a player rarely deployed in an out-and-out forward role.
Tested against the best
Indeed, he was FC Bayern's top scorer in last season's triumphant march through Europe, chipping in with eight goals all-told – three of them in the 7-0 aggregate demolition of FC Barcelona that secured the team a berth in the final at Wembley. Little wonder, then, that outgoing coach Heynckes at the time tipped Müller, alongside fellow Münchner Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, to make the running in this year's Ballon d'Or.
Not for the first time, he finds himself up against players with an ostensibly much jazzier profile - Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo et al, to say nothing of a few familiar faces from the Säbener Straße training ground. Whether or not his individual exploits receive the ultimate public accolade this time around, however, Müller will stride on regardless, surreptitiously reaching the parts that other players can't.
The Bundesliga's other men in contention for the Ballon d'Or 2013: