Grey Neutral Weekly: The very mighty Müller

SAD news from Germany that the most famous footballer to remove England from the World Cup without cheating is no longer with us. Gerd Müller, a legendary figure in the Bayern Munich story, World Cup winner and goalscoring machine, has died aged 75. 

Born November 3, 1945 in Nördlingen, Müller is considered the greatest striker of all time by many pundits. Although he came to the attention of British fans in 1967 when he played a key role in his club, Bayern Munich, winning the European Cup Winners-Cup against Glasgow Rangers, it was the 1970 World Cup that earned him the reputation of one of the most feared forwards in the game.

Müller was the leading scorer in Mexico, scoring two hat-tricks in the group stage – against Peru and Bulgaria in the space of four days – and went on to become top marksman in the competition. England fans caught a glimpse of his ability to be quite athletic, despite being nicknamed “kleines dickes Müller” (short, fat Müller) by green-eyed coaches. Two years later, with the West German team in its pomp, Müller scored at Wembley against England to effectively knock the reigning World Champions out of the European Championship.

Müller won the Ballon d’Or in 1970, fending off the challenge of Bobby Moore and Luigi Riva. From 1967 to 1976, he featured in the top 20 of the award and also made the top three in 1969 and 1973. Furthermore, he won the European Golden Shoe as Europe’s top scorer in 1969-70 and 1971-72. He was West German footballer of the year in 1967 and 1969.

After 1970, Helmut Schön’s West Germany arrived, winning the European crown in 1972, the calendar year in which Müller netted an astonishing 85 goals. Bayern Munich, too, were coming to the boil and in 1974, were European Champions for the first time. Muller was still the kingpin in a team that included Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier and when West Germany hosted the World Cup, it was Müller who won the new trophy for his country, swivelling his hips to score the winner in Munich after the Dutch had earlier threatened to embarrass their hosts. It was Müller’s last game for his country and his 68th goal in 62 games, a remarkable statistic. He later admitted that he had been a little hasty in retiring from the national team. West Germany certainly struggled to replace him.

With Bayern Munich, Müller won a total of three European Cups (1974 to 1976), four Bundesliga titles, four DFB Pokals and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, and accumulated 398 goals in 453 games, a phenomenal record. As good and as lethal as he was, his post-playing career was something of an anti-climax and he experienced great problems with depression and alcohol. Thankfully, his former team-mates and old club, Bayern, rallied round “Der Bomber” – they realised the debt of gratitude they owed to the little (5ft 9 inches) front man.

Down to Millwall

AS EVER, a trip to Millwall leaves you with mixed emotions. There’s scarcely a stadium in Britain where the atmosphere is more raucous and intimidating. Against Blackburn Rovers, it was no different, there was a sense of “we’re back” about the afternoon. It started with a free-for-all in the stand where our seats had been taken by a group of regulars who clearly didn’t fancy Row E and we were not going to argue. Inevitably, they only sat in our Row B seats for about half the game, the rest of the time, they were either topping-up at the bar or expelling what they had already consumed. Never mind, we still had a decent view, when they were not standing up. Why do we go to Millwall, you might ask? It’s such an interesting place to watch a match, a throwback to more robust times and a good example of how influential a passionate and full-on crowd can be. They didn’t like the “taking the knee” at the Den, the gesture was roundly jeered by the fans and, the Millwall team didn’t take part. The game itself was unexceptional, ending 1-1. Both goals, by Millwall’s Jed Wallace and Blackburn’s born-again Chilean Ben Brereton-Diaz, were decent efforts, but the 12,490 crowd won’t remember the contest for too long. Millwall need more punch up front and Blackburn need more ambition.

The Kane game

NOW that Lionel Messi has found a home for the next two years, the emphasis is switching to Harry Kane and the game of “will-he, won’t-he” for the next couple of weeks. Kane was not at the Tottenham stadium for their deserved and eye-catching 1-0 win over Manchester City. You could read this in many ways, but our take at GOTP towers is the deal has probably been done and it’s a little embarrassing for Kane to be rubbing shoulders with City on the opening day of the season. Fans are fickle, as we have saw at Tottenham – at the end of the 90 minutes, they were chanting, “are you watching, Harry Kane?”, which suggests the bond has been broken. Kane has been idolised by the Spurs faithful, but how quickly the sentiment can change. It will be a surprise if Kane doesn’t leave, and judging by City’s lack-lustre performance, they need him.

Payback time for Lille?

LILLE’s Ligue 1 success in 2020-21 was marvellous for the French club, but it has all gone horribly wrong for them since. The club lost their coach, Christoph Galtier in the summer and he returned this weekend with his new club to win 4-0 in Lille. The club already had financial problems when Callisto Sporting bought them in December 2020, with debts around € 150 million and rising. Lille’s wage bill in 2019-20 was just over 20% of the total paid by Paris Saint-Germain, so their achievement in 2020-21 was considerable. Their revenues for 2019-20 were just € 96 million, as it is unlikely last season will be better than that, what will the impact be of trying to keep pace with more affluent clubs? Lille may yet lose the core of their title-winning team, which might swell their bank balance, but how damaging will that be for their on-pitch performances?

Photo: Alamy

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Tottenham need to sell Kane while the pot is boiling

WE KNOW only too well that footballers can often agitate for a move by suddenly appearing to be uncooperative, petulant and just downright awkward. A number of players have thrown their toys out of their very expensive 4×4 prams in order to make themselves unpopular, so much so their employer cannot wait to cash-in and see them off the premises. That said, we don’t like to think of a player like Harry Kane adopting these tactics, because he’s the England captain, a decent fellow and as far as Spurs are concerned, “one of our own”. 

Kane has spoken out about the news of him refusing to train and being late back from Florida. Apparently, he returned as planned and he was horrified about rumours of him downing tools. Perhaps somebody, somewhere, has been a little economical with the truth. You would assume that Tottenham knew Kane was not due back at the club until a certain date, but if that was the case, why did they not tell the media when the news suggested he was still in FLA and dragging his heels? Why did they let Kane take the flack? And why did it take so long for Kane to respond on an issue that paints him with a very negative brush?

The message has been fairly clear for some time that Kane is disgruntled and wants to win some silverware before he passes his natural peak. Tottenham are unlikely to be the club that does it for him, not in the immediate future, at least. Kane simply cannot afford to wait for Spurs’ future to come along, they are rapidly resembling Arsenal in the period following their FA Cup win in 2005 – a team that never realises its potential. It’s ironic that, like the Gunners in that period, Spurs have a shiny new stadium to pay for. Unlike Arsenal, Spurs cannot look back on a successful period and consider their winning ways on hold until their finances become more receptive. Spurs’ last trophy was won in 2008, their last league title secured in 1961 and their most recent FA Cup won in 1991. 

Football refuses to fully acknowledge that players are employees and for someone to express a desire to leave a club is not about disloyalty or high treason, it’s about getting the best out of a short and hazardous career. Football is not a vocation, is not a calling or a step towards holy orders, but is a highly-paid career at the top level where a player can reap the rewards for around a decade. Kane is 28, he’s won nothing and his club are in a rebuild programme. In 12 months, he will be close to 30 when his stock starts to fall – bad news for him and for Spurs.

If he’s going, it probably has to be now in order for Spurs to monetise the value of their asset. That may sound all a little clinical, perhaps too business-orientated, but at the moment, Harry Kane is probably worth more than he’s ever been worth and in 12 months, he may be valued at a lower price, especially if he has a bad campaign. Spurs are in transition, £ 160 million will just about do it, although any possible signing will suddenly cost a premium after such a sale.

There’s also a club that really wants him who have the cash to meet the terms and conditions of the deal. Manchester City can accommodate Spurs’ demands and also give Kane what he wants and needs. Spurs and their fans can hardly complain, Kane has scored 221 goals for the club and has set a good example on the pitch. There’s been very little drama and he’s generally liked across the nation as England’s skipper. On top of the goals and leadership, earning a big fee for the player when he says farewell represents a successful transaction for Spurs.

Kane is under contract until June 30, 2024, so you could argue he should be going nowhere, but that’s why he is worth so much ion the market. Three years still remaining on his deal, he’s more valuable than if there was just one year to go. So, the fact he is contracted for so long is a positive for Spurs, is it not?

If Kane remains at Spurs, what will his mindset be like? He will surely still be at odds with his situation. More money might act like an emollient, but there’s no guarantee it will work and more cash for already wealthy individuals only delivers a short-term buzz. More significant is the influence he will have on his team-mates and in the dressing room if he is really hankering to get away. Hence, Spurs need to sell him now and move on. And if they do receive that expected windfall, they need to invest it wisely, not fritter it away on sub-standard signings, as they did in the aftermath of Gareth Bale’s departure. Moreover, timing is important, the way football’s economy is deteriorating, you cannot be totally confident Kane’s buyers will be interested in the future.

Kane exiting Tottenham Hotspur will be a blow to morale, but if his transfer funds a new team and improves the squad, then the player’s legacy can be a positive one. Kane is an excellent striker, a talismanic figure, but life will go on without him, as hard as it will seem for some to swallow. At present, they will get the best price for him but delay for too long and the club runs the risk of holding on to a declining asset. The stance being taken by both player and club is all part of a cat and mouse game – Kane wants to go, Spurs give the impression they don’t want to sell, City covet the player, but are keeping their powder dry. At the right price, the deal will surely be done and Kane will get the baubles he craves, Spurs will fund a new team.