BERLIN: It was not long ago that Thomas Mueller’s lack of goals was a hot topic in football-mad Germany.
The 27-year-old failed to score in six matches at Euro 2016 leaving some wondering if the Bayern Munich star had lost his goal touch.
But after 599 minutes without scoring for the national team, the self-confident Mueller dismissed any doubts by scoring four goals in his last two internationals to put Germany firmly on the path to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
After netting twice in Germany’s away win against Norway last month, Mueller banged in two more in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic in Hamburg.
Next up is Northern Ireland, who haven’t won in Germany for nearly 33 years, in Hanover on Tuesday.
Another double in that game would give Mueller a hat-trick of two-goal hauls for his country.
His four goals have helped leave the Germans with a perfect record from their two World Cup qualifiers so far to top Group C.
Bizarrely, Mueller has yet to score for Bayern in six German league games this season.
Never one to miss the chance to poke some gentle fun at the German media, he planted his tongue firmly in his cheek when the subject was broached in post-match interviews after the Czech win.
– ‘Tragically ironic’ –
“I was in a tragic situation before the game, so I am glad I was able to free myself from the swamp,” he quipped.
Strangely, Mueller has never scored at a European championship finals, having also failed to net at Euro 2012.
“I don’t know why that is,” he admitted.
“It is interesting and funny — well, not that funny — that things are working again with a World Cup coming up, so you can make some nice stories out of it,” he told reporters.
His brace against the Czechs came with him wearing shin-pads bearing the name of Lukas Podolski, who recently retired from international duty.
“That’s a little game between myself and our kit man,” revealed Mueller.
“I had other shin pads in, then he thought I should take the other ones from Poldi, so that something might happen.
“You have to take matters in hand yourself, keep working hard and try things again and again.
“But then, there are always defenders and goalkeepers in your way….”
Mueller has come a long way since being famously mistaken for a ball-boy by Diego Maradona following his Germany debut in 2010.
His name has even found it’s way into the German language.
His website is Es-Muellert-wieder.de (‘It’s Muellering again’) while daily newspaper Bild quipped that the Czechs had been subjected to a ‘Muellering’.
With 36 goals in 80 appearances, he is an automatic choice for club or country whether as a winger, attacking midfielder or striker.
– 100-million-euro-man –
Bayern fans dubbed him the ‘100-million-euro-man’ last year after Manchester United reportedly tabled a massive bid for the Bavarian-born product who joined the Munich giants as a 10-year-old.
Last December, Mueller signed a contract extension with Bayern until June 2021, reportedly making him 15 million euros ($17 million) per season.
With an eye past the 2018 finals in Russia, he will still only be 32 when the following World Cup comes around in 2022.
When he was just 20, he finished as the top scorer at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, when he also won the award for the best young player.
And Mueller bagged a hat-trick in Germany’s opening 4-0 win over Portugal at the 2014 World Cup finals as he went onto help his country win their fourth world title.
After winning the final, his jack-the-lad humour came to the fore.
He was asked, straight after Germany’s 1-0 extra-time win over Argentina at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium, whether he was disappointed to have missed out to James Rodriguez as the tournament’s top scorer.
Using a thick Bavarian dialect, Mueller jokingly told the baffled Colombian reporter to stick the trophy where the sun doesn’t shine, because “we’ve just won the World Cup!”