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How the Raumdeuter Role is Diminishing in Modern Football

Thomas Müller

Thomas Müller, der Raumdeuter (eng: space investigator), is a roaming playmaker without the ball. Many have attempted to emulate him, few succeed in copying. But as the decade has progressed, Thomas Müller’s significance has slowly diminished into the shadows. And in the future, when legends are spoken about, one of FC Bayern’s finest will be consigned to little more than the shadows

Bursting onto the scene as a bright teenager with plenty of potential under Louis van Gaal, Thomas Müller began playing as a shadow striker or attacking midfielder, centrally in the famed 4-2-3-1 still the core of FC Bayern today. His technical ability was questionable, as once quoted to ‚run like a giraffe‚, but the penchant and eye for goal was incredible. Where teams can be punished for profligacy, Thomas Müller takes his chances (minus Euro 2020), and holds an incredible record of not losing a single Bundesliga match in which he has scored in, except one against Bayer Leverkusen on 30 November 2019, ending a 10-year streak

Although primarily a central player, Thomas Müller was sporadically moved out to the right under Jupp Heynckes, with both Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos regularly in and out of the team through injury concerns. His role on the right flank further increased with the Germany national team setup and the country’s abundance of technically gifted midfielders. As a winger, Müller was rarely there, instead overloading the central areas with his presence and occupying high-value positions in the central zones. Where the ball moved to his side, he would support from the touchline, but in central buildup, he would be opening passing lanes in obscure angles, only visible to the eyes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Özil

It was with Pep Guardiola at FC Bayern where Thomas Müller truly flourished, scoring 20 Bundesliga goals in the 2015/16 season. It took two seasons to finally find the right fit for him, playing next to and just behind Robert Lewandowski in a fluid 3-5-2 hybrid system. Constant positional rotations and high-intensity pressure turned the ball over in high-value areas, and with the constant attacking movement, Müller was able to slip into space around the pitch

This was intensified under Hansi Flick in the treble-winning 2020 season, with Thomas Müller’s heatmap only exceeded by that of Joshua Kimmich. His everpresence on the field has dictated play around him, without any contact with the ball. Where other superstars will hold onto the ball and watch for opportunities to open up, Thomas Müller is the opposite, constantly finding himself running away from the ball, creating space for the ball-carrier, and carving open his own chances to take

The emergence of the defensive midfielder in many formations since the turn of the decade has slowly decreased the effectiveness of another similar player. Classic number 10 players, such as Mesut Özil, Juan Mata, even Zinedine Zidane, have slowly been one of a dying breed. Similarly, in the raumdeuder position on the flanks, Pedro (Rodríguez Ledesma), José Callejón, and other players who have attempted to emulate the space-finding techniques of Thomas Müller has suffered, as seen by their career paths. Pedro was successful at both Barça and Chelsea, before joining Roma and now Lazio. Meanwhile, Callejón emerged at Espanyol and Real Madrid, before enjoying a commendable stint at Napoli, and is now without a club after a short spell at Fiorentina

More spatially-aware fullbacks, and the discipline of top-level defensive midfielders has seen a reduction in a footballing role for thos less technically gifted, such as Thomas Müller. His ball-playing ability is still excellent, mind you, but compared to footballers such as Lionel Messi, he’s a long way behind. Whereas the evergreen Bayern legend is still setting records in 2022, and is ageing like a fine wine, others who emulate his style have disappeared very quickly. Football is a volatile profession, and although Thomas Müller is still here, it’s increasingly likely he’ll be the last of his kind

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