The Bayern Munich and Germany star may be in his prime, but not everyone was convinced he’d make it.
Married to a talented equestrienne and a lover of horses himself, Germany and Bayern Munich attacking thoroughbred Thomas Muller was not always as universally revered as he is today. In fact, a few years ago he came very close to not making the professional grade at all in Bavaria.
In 2009, while playing for the club’s reserve side, a deal was almost done to sell him to Hoffenheim. And it’s fair to say that Bayern’s coach at the time, Jurgen Klinsmann, would not have shed a single tear if he had left.
“Jurgen Klinsmann had made up his mind and told me there was no room for me in the first team,” recalled Muller in an interview with Kicker magazine in 2013.
“Hermann Gerland [Bayern’s long serving youth coach] came out against the idea, plus Hoffenheim did not offer enough. The transfer window closed and I stayed put.”
That was not the only time the wiry young local lad looked to be heading for the Bayern exit. In a decision that he is still trying to live down, FC Zurich president Ancillo Canepa ignored an opportunity to take Muller on loan, explaining: “We didn’t want to bring in a player we had only looked at on DVD. Anyway, we were more interested at the time in a more bustling type of striker.”
A few weeks later, in the 2009 close season, newly appointed Basle coach Thorsten Fink also made an attempt to take Muller to Switzerland, along with fellow Bayern second-stringer, defender Holger Badstuber.
“We were thinking about which Bayern academy products could help us push on and we identified those two,” recalls Fink, who was a combative midfielder with Bayern when they won the Champions League in 2001. “They weren’t getting a look in with Jurgen Klinsmann, so I got in touch with Hermann Gerland to ask if there was a chance of signing them. However, Bayern wouldn’t let them go.”
Also pursuing the pair at that time were the management at newly promoted Bundesliga outfit Freiburg. Reporters on the local newspaper, the Badische Zeitung, swear negotiations were so advanced that contracts had been drawn up, and sources at the Black Forest club have confirmed it. “It was one of those ‘could, would or if’ stories,” smiles Freiburg press chief Rudi Raschke – and it certainly is an apt description, with the would-be buyers thinking they were home and dry, only for newly arrived Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal to pull the plug at the last minute.
Before agreeing to the sale, Van Gaal insisted on watching the two youngsters in training and he liked what he saw. He immediately made the pair first-team regulars in what was the first step in a breakthrough campaign of wall-to-wall achievements: the glory of a German league-and-cup double, a runners-up spot in the Champions League and prominence with the national side at the 2010 World Cup.
Winning his first cap for Germany a few months previously – in a 1-0 friendly loss to Argentina in March – Muller was a typical Van Gaal player. He was 19, confident, industrious and purposeful, always looking to make things happen and willing to follow match-day instructions to the letter.
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