When Joachim Low elected not to call up Mario Gomez, Kevin Volland or Max Kruse for the World Cup, Germany were entering a new era. Throughout their history, they had been spearheaded by prolific centre forwards – from Uwe Seeler to Miroslav Klose via Gerd Muller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Jurgen Klinsmann.
Klose, now 36, had been retained, but had struggled for fitness throughout the domestic season with Lazio. The German public were looking towards Mario Gotze, who has played as an unorthodox striker at both club and international level and Lukas Podolski, whose skills are much better suited to a berth on the left wing.
The issue had perplexed figures from across German football. Seeler said: “I don’t know if Klose will be enough alone. He has also been injured.” Former Germany striker Ulf Kirsten added: “I’m sceptical. This is very risky from Low.”
As it turned out, the solution was simple: Thomas Muller.
The three-time World champions got their campaign under way on Monday with a ruthless 4-0 victory over Portugal, with Muller entrusted with leading the line.
The decision was immediately vindicated. Within 10 minutes, he had played a role in a delightful move which saw Gotze win a penalty. He converted the spot kick himself and on the stroke of half-time, after Mats Hummels had doubled Germany’s lead and Pepe had been sent off, Muller’s attacking instincts came to the fore once again as he superbly turned in the box and slotted past Rui Patricio.
He completed his hat-trick with a predatory effort late on and the matter is now settled for Low. Muller must lead the line for the duration of the competition and will be absolutely key to his side’s hopes of winning it.
Four years ago, he was the top scorer at the World Cup, despite being just 20 and was already so important to the team that his influence was sorely missed when he was suspended for the semi-final clash with Spain. Germany looked toothless in attack and lost 1-0.
Often overlooked in favour of his more dynamic colleagues when representing the Bavarians and Germany, he was controversially left out for the Euro 2012 semi-final with Italy after enduring a quiet tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Germany missed a flurry of chances early on and were promptly punished by two breakaway Mario Balotelli goals. Had he been on the pitch, things may have been different and Low realised the error of his decision and Muller has been a fixture ever since. Whether playing behind the front man, on the left flank or the right flank, he has remained one of Bayern and Germany’s most potent attacking threats.
He relishes the big stage has eight World Cup goals to his name in just seven games. So, the solution to Germany’s striker problems is an old one: a Bayern Munich attacker called Muller with No.13 on his back.