KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Gerd Muller, one of the greatest goal-grabbers in the history of world football, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Formal confirmation was delivered by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a former team-mate and now chairman of Bayern Munich. Rummenigge spoke up to forestall the interview and media access requests which would have been inevitable ahead of Muller’s 70th birthday on November 3.
Muller, who was diagnosed in 2011, lives now in a nursing home and, according to friends, on his worst days recognises only his wife Uschi who has been his carer for many years.
Rummenigge announced: “The former centre forward of FC Bayern, who scored 535 goals between 1964 and 1979 in 585 official matches for the club, has suffered for some time from Alzheimer’s disease.
“Der Bomber, as he is internationally known, is one of the greatest footballers in history with 62 appearances for the German national team. He was a world champion in 1974, a European champion in 1972 and, with 13 titles for Bayern, is one of the legends of our club.
“Since the beginning of February 2015 he has benefited from the strong professional support for his family. Therefore his wife Uschi asks for everyone’s understanding that, on his 70th birthday, there can be no official appointments and visits. ”
Prof Dr Hans Förstl, who has been supervising Muller’s care, praised the support of his wife, the club, fans and media whose respect and sympathy had enabled Muller to live in the Bayern community for as long as possible.
Muller’s last formal public appearance was at a gala in his honour in Hamburg in 2013. The address was offered by Franz Beckenbauer, his room-mate during their time together at Bayern as young world-conquering footballers in the 1970s.
Still, to this day, no German has scored more goals in the Bundesliga (365) or German cup (78), or European Cups (65). Until June last year Muller was also the national team’s record marksman with 68 goals until being overtaken by Miroslav Klose.
The new record-holder was more embarrassed than delighted with his achievement, saying: “You cannot talk about us in the same breath. I played twice as many games as Gerd Muller.”
Muller, born on November 3, 1945, began with local club TSV Nordlingen and was signed for Bayern by president Wilhelm Neudecker. Coach Zlatko ‘Tschik’ Cajkovski, though Neudecker was joking when he introduced the new, young, tubby centre-forward at pre-season training.
“I’m not putting that little elephant in among my string of thoroughbreds,” complained Cajkovski. But he did – and Bayern never looked back. Muller’s goals shot them out of the regional league to victory in the Cup-winners Cup glory inside three years.
At the end, after a fade-out spell in the old North American Soccer League with Fort Lauderdale Strikers, he had scored well over 600 goals.
Helmut Schon, West Germany’s hugely-successful national manager in the 1960s and 1970s, described Muller as “my scorer of little goals.” It was not a demeaning comment – merely a statement of fact that Muller possessed a wonderful gift for pouncing on any ball, loose for even one split-second, deep in any penalty box and scoring.
His most famous “little goal” was, indeed, the winner in the 1974 World Cup Final when Muller twisted to meet a short cross which Rainer Bonhof appeared to have pulled too far back and stabbed into the Dutch net.
For all that his goal-scoring record was phenomenal, Muller was under-rated as a footballer. Rarely did he have a chance to display a full range of his abilities but Leeds United were certainly caught out in the 1975 Champions Cup Final when Muller had to drop back into the Bayern Munich midfield because of injuries. Scheming rather than scoring, Muller led Bayern to a 2-0 victory in Paris.
Muller was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1970 and awarded FIFA’s Order of Merit for services to the game in 1998.
Later life was not so happy. As Muller’s career faded so he slipped into alcoholism before being ‘rescued’ by his old Bayern team-mates Uli Hoeness and Beckenbauer. They brought him back to Munich and found him roles on first the coaching staff and then in an ambassadorial role.
Now, sadly, even those days are over.