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


The Grey Neutral: Lille in the pink

ONLY one of the top five European leagues saw its title regained by 2019-20 champions Germany and Bayern Munich. In England, France, Italy and Spain, it’s a year of change. In both France and Italy, it feels more seismic, although Atlético’s success in Spain ends a six-year run of Barca and Real passing the baton to each other. Lille’s playing budget for 2020-21 was € 147 million, versus Paris Saint-Germain’s € 600 million. Hence, the success of Lille is really quite remarkable. PSG will end the season with just the Coupe de France, so Mauricio Pochettino might be a little nervous – Tuchel left PSG with four major trophies in two seasons, including two league titles. Lille’s team may struggle to stay together, notably younger talents like Jonathan David, the 21 year-old Canadian striker, goalkeeper Mike Maignan and Turkish defender Zeki Celik. The team also has some experience in José Fonte (37), Burak Yilmaz (35) and the impressive former Rennes midfielder Benjamin André (30). It’s good to see someone challenge Paris Saint-Germain, who have just given Neymar a new contract. Will they regret that?

Sutton United – an unlikely bunch of heroes

ANYONE who used to visit Sutton United during the club’s long non-league career is probably scratching their head right now. Sutton have never been one of the big clubs in terms of attendances, although they have always had a loyal audience. In step three circles, Sutton were always considered to be non-league royalty and any victory at Gander Green Lane was savoured. They always had good backroom people, from their directors to press officers like Tony Dolbear. They were always very professional. And they have stubbornly hung on their amber and chocolate kit. Sutton deserve credit for their “rebirth” in recent years, installing an artificial pitch and boldly making ticket prices realistic. They deserved success and good luck to them in 2021-22. The Football League is a big step for a London area club and ripping-up that 4G (if it is 4G) will be a painful process, but the good folk of Sutton have never had it so good. Enjoy!

Mavericks also don’t win medals

LISTENING to a podcast involving some players from the early 1970s was an interesting experience. Firstly, it was obvious they loved the game, but secondly, they lived the life and really didn’t expect it to impact their careers. We eulogise about the so-called “maverick” players who had plenty of skill but didn’t win many caps for England. There’s a reason for that – they were unreliable and an international manager doesn’t have the scope to gamble on players or wonder if they will turn up for the game. These players were all fond of the good life and most played in teams that were inconsistent. I wonder why?  Trawl through the careers of six so-called “mavericks” – Alan Hudson, Tony Currie, Rodney Marsh, Frank Worthington, Peter Osgood and Stan Bowles. All brilliant players in their prime. Between this lot, only 45 England caps were picked up, but equally, their medal haul was meagre. Two FA Cups (both Osgood), two Football League Cups (both Marsh), two European Cup-Winners’ Cups (Hudson and Osgood). Currie, Bowles and Worthington didn’t win a single medal. As for George Best, arguably the greatest maverick of all time, he won three medals, two league titles and the 1968 European Cup. As idolised as these players were, their ability didn’t translate into material success with their clubs, unlike Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have won 40 major medals between them!


Photo: Flickr – Maxime Delrue CC BY-NC 2.0