Not long after the 2010 World Cup, when asked in an interview how he would best explain his position and role on the pitch, Mueller’s reply was simple and concise.
Roughly translating as “space investigator,” it attempts to capture the sometimes intangible qualities Mueller brings to Bayern Munich and the German national team.
Not blessed with blistering pace or explosive power, two traits often deemed essential in the modern game, Mueller’s advantage comes from intelligence and movement, exploiting spaces most players don’t even see.
“I’m a player that makes many runs off the ball, hurting the opponent’s defense,” Mueller tells Copa90.
“Football is always a mix between pass play and run play, you’ve got to make intelligent runs without getting impatient and, of course, always work on the finish during practice.”
When Mueller was 10 years old, Bayern Munich held a tournament called the Mercure Cup in the vicinity of the city, searching for talented kids in the area.
A scout from the club was there to watch and Mueller, by his own admission, played “pretty well” for his team.
Already an avid Bayern fan as a kid, Mueller was adamant this opportunity wasn’t going to pass him by.
“Mum, we really need to go,” he recalls telling her. “I have a trial!”
Later that same year, in July 2000, Mueller received his first official playing membership at Bayern and admits his first training session came as a bit of a shock.
“I thought I was pretty decent,” he says. “But I came to Bayern and realized that: ‘Oh, there are other great players on this planet.'”
Mueller believes the academy experience forms the basis of any footballer’s professional career. He says sacrifices will always need to be made, but players shouldn’t forget why they first started playing the sport.
“Here (the academy), everybody is together and the conditions are great, all players, all trainers, working together on a daily basis, to improve every player,” he says.
“You have to give up a few things and even suffer a bit, but you must never lose the fun of it.”
Managers, both at Bayern and the German national team, have been and gone in Mueller’s time, but he has always remained a key figure on the pitch.
The 28-year-old, who is modest and endearingly down to earth, attributes this to his attitude, something which has never changed since his days in Bayern’s youth system.
“I had many trainers and got along with all of them as I was someone who always wanted to win and was willing to put in the effort,” he says. “That’s why we never had any issues.
“There is no single word that sums up everything, but a combination of ambition and discipline with the joy for football and life in general.
“You’ve got to find a good balance between team spirit and egoism. The rest just happens.”