Winger? No. Second Striker? Not exactly. Attacking midfielder perhaps? No. So what role does Müller actually play at FC Bayern? Although in pen and paper, he is marked as a forward, he has been used by coaches at various positions around the field. Striker, second striker, midfield, and even in the wings. However, his role always stays the same in every game. He is the Raumdeuter. What does it mean?
The Raumdeuter or the Interpreter of Space
"Ich bin ein Raumdeuter"
- Müller in an interview, when asked about his unique role
In an interview in 2011, when asked about his position, Thomas replied that he is a Raumdeuter. The word 'Raumdeuter' when translated to English stands for 'interpreter of space'. This might seem like an obvious quality for a football player to have. I mean, obviously, every player needs to look for spaces and utilize them. However, not all players can do that. More specifically, not all players can create and find those spaces for other players to utilize. Müller is not what you would call exceptionally talented. He is not even a close contender of the best player in the world title. However, what he does, he does best.
“He’s got a very good sense of the game tactically, and he’s a player who’s very important on the pitch – he’s the coach’s right-hand man,” said Flick of Müller recently. “He leads the team, he leads his teammates and plays at a very high level. Thomas is a player that would do any team good.”
The Raumdeuter position is not something prevalent in the modern way of football. The German gave a name to what we generally know as the ability to find spaces. However, a few other players have tried to utilize that same role as well. Dele Alli of Tottenham was given the same role by Mauricio Pochetino. Napoli's José Callejon has played a similar role too. They didn't shine as Müller did, but this shows how the role is being expanded and applied to the modern game too.
How effective is the Raumdeuter role?
A look at Müller's accolades and stats can immediately bring forward the effectiveness of the role. In the current 20/21 season, Müller has already registered his 7th goal and 9th assist having played 17 matches in Bundesliga. He is currently the top assist provider in Bundesliga. In the previous season, he bagged 21 assists and 8 goals in Bundesliga. He was the first player to score more than 20 assists since Kevin De Bruyne did it for Wolfsburg in 2014/15. The stats themselves speak a lot.
These are however just additional pushes and goes on to show how effective Müller is on the field. The Raumdeuter role isn't about scoring or assisting. It doesn't require superior technical abilities or physical strength, none of which Müller possesses. It's about finding the space. Creating the space. Using the space. Make space for other players to do their work. The fact that Müller, a 31-year-old player can do all those and assist and score as well, really defines what an exquisite player he is.
Time and again, he has proved that his inclusion in the squad is beneficial for the whole team although he can't provide each and every match. No player does. Today's stats-driven football judges a player based on his ability to score, assist or dribble. Finding spaces isn't something you can put down on pen and paper.
Heynckes told DFL Magazine that Muller "has long since shown what has always distinguished him: to be helpful to the team, hard-working and extremely strong," and described him as the "most extraordinary player in German football history."
Effect of Müller on Bayern's style of play
There is nothing much to say about FC Bayern. Champions of Europe. They follow an attacking based tactical gameplay. This forces the opposition to form a barricade in front of their goal, sometimes impenetrable. These are moments when someone like Müller can break the deadlock and bring a rhythm to the game. What Müller does is find the spaces between the lines of defense. If there isn't one, he creates space by drawing defenders towards his zone. This allows other midfielders and strikers to break through the lines with a defense-splitting pass or a solo run.
Stats don't always justify Müller's role in the team. However, his stats are unbelievable and so is Bayern's. They scored 43 goals in 11 matches, averaging almost 4 goals a game in the Champions League (2019-20). In the Bundesliga, they scored 100 goals last season and finished at the top of the table with 82 points. Müller was a vital ingredient in their success.
“It is a bit difficult to write more history in just eight months,” Klopp, whose team won the 2019 Champions League crown, told ZDF television. “Bayern have a sensational squad. They have world class players in all positions, all at just the right age.”
“Germany was a bit lucky that, amid the scheduling chaos (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), their schedule was better suited for the Champions League, nevertheless, Bayern are at the moment definitely one of the absolute top, top teams. There is not a lot to complain about.”
“I know a few teams in England that could beat Bayern on a good day but even if these teams were there (Champions League tournament) Bayern could still have won it because of their quality,” Klopp said.
Possibly the first and last Raumdeuter
Müller is the first and possibly the last player who can justify the Raumdeuter role. The German created the role himself. Hence it's neither prevalent nor acknowledged worldwide. Only a player who has a keen eye for finding spaces can probably justify this role. The reason why the 'Raumdeuter' role is not appreciated as much as it should be is that it doesn't push the stats. Today we tend to always judge a player based on the stats he commands. However, there are other elements in football too. Once we acknowledge those, football geniuses like Müller will finally get what they deserve.