Gerd Müller, who has died aged 75, was one of Germany’s greatest footballers and a star of the 1974 World Cup final, in which he scored the winning goal against the Netherlands.
He also scored twice in West Germany’s 1972 European Championship final win over the Soviet Union and across more than 62 appearances for his country racked up a scarcely believable total of 68 goals, at a rate of more than one a game.
Müller was also a giant on the domestic and European club scene with Bayern Munich, where his scoring ratio was only slightly less jaw-dropping. During 15 years with the club he was the Bundesliga’s top scorer seven times, and helped Bayern to four league titles, three European Cups and a European Cup Winners’ Cup, finishing as the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorer with 365 goals in 427 games.
Short and thickset but supremely well balanced, Müller had a devastating burst of pace over short distances, and was exceedingly agile inside the six-yard box, where he scored a large proportion of his goals through opportunism and quick thinking. Despite being only 5ft 9in he was also an excellent header of the ball.
Retiring from international football at the early age of 28 after a row with the German football association, he later left Bayern following another, separate, spat, and saw his career out in the US with Fort Lauderdale before taking on coaching roles back in Munich.
He was born in Nördlingen, Bavaria, one of five children of Johann, a labourer, and his wife, Christina. After leaving school at 14 Gerd became an apprentice weaver and in 1962, aged 17, began playing for the first team of his home town amateur club, TSV Nördlingen, scoring 51 goals for them in the 1963-64 season. Nearby Bayern Munich heard of his exploits and signed him up in 1964.
Bayern were then playing in a level below the Bundesliga, and aside from a solitary national league title back in 1932 had hardly set German football alight. But the signing of Müller, along with two other future greats of the game, Franz Beckenbauer and Sepp Maier, helped them gain promotion to the top league in Müller’s first season, laying the foundations for a decade of majestic achievement that established them for the rest of the century, and to the present day, as one of Europe’s premier sides.
Bayern won the Bundesliga in 1968-69, then followed up with three consecutive league titles from 1971-72 onwards as Müller scored more than 50 goals in each season. Having been named European Footballer of the Year in 1970, he won the first of his three European Cup winners’ medals in 1974, scoring two of Bayern’s four unanswered goals against Atlético Madrid in a replay of the final. He bagged another goal in the 2-0 victory over Leeds United in the 1975 European Cup final and provided five goals across the 1976 campaign that ended with a 1-0 win against St Etienne and a third medal.
Müller made his debut for West Germany in a friendly against Turkey in late 1966, and four years later won the Golden Boot at the 1970 finals in Mexico as the highest scorer in the tournament with 10 goals, one of which was the decider that so painfully knocked out England 3-2 in the quarter-finals. West Germany were eliminated in the semi-finals of that tournament, despite two more Müller goals against Italy, but consolation was to come two years later when they claimed the 1972 European Championship, Müller contributing two decisive goals in the final as they won 3-0 against the Soviet Union.
His winning effort in the 1974 World Cup final came against a much-fancied Netherlands side, and was essayed from well inside the penalty box as a cross came in from Rainer Bonhof. Closely marked and failing at first to get the ball under control, he retrieved the situation by spinning round quickly, hitting his shot through the legs of the defender and past the goalkeeper. That took the score from 1-1 to 2-1 just before half-time, and settled the outcome.
Hard on the heels of the 1974 World Cup win, however, Müller announced that he had quit the national side, officially so that he could spend more time with his family but in reality because he had been deeply upset by a decision to ban players’ wives from the official post-match World Cup celebrations.
He left Bayern five years later in 1979, this time after objecting to being substituted in a match against Eintracht Frankfurt. By then 33, he moved to Florida to play three lucrative seasons with Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League and finally gave up playing in 1981, aged 36.
While in the US Müller developed a drink problem, and in the immediate years after his retirement, when he and his wife, Uschi (nee Ebenböck), ran a steakhouse in Fort Lauderdale, he succumbed to alcoholism. With some help from Bayern Munich he was eventually able to dry out, after which his old club employed him in Germany as a youth coach for the next two decades. He retired from public view in 2013 and in 2015 it was announced that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
He is survived by Uschi, whom he married in 1967, and their daughter, Nicole.
• Gerd (Gerhard) Müller, footballer, born 3 November 1945; died 15 August 2021
• This article was amended on 16 August 2021. Gerd Müller was 5ft 9in tall rather than 5ft 6in.