By the Numbers: 9

Soccer lists are ubiquitous and come in all shapes and sizes, types and varieties. We at O87 never settle for just doing another list. “Just another list” isn’t even in our vocabulary. So, when one of us decided that it would behoove our blog to have it’s own take on the “Best Of” phenomenon of modern sports, we decided that we couldn’t just list the best players in order of their relative merits, by their decades or eras, or even by their positions. We would try something marginally novel (we won’t be so bold as to claim to be the first to come up with this idea): let’s rank players by the number they wore, not by their position. Now obviously, this throws in some wrinkles. Players who might not normally be compared to each other will needs be. For example, Makelele, Hargreaves, Koeman, Zanetti, and Fabregas have all iconically worn number 4. Who to choose? It doesn’t matter! We’re trying to approach this question from a different perspective. We hope you enjoy it.

Picking the best #9 is like picking the best Hitchcock film. They’ve all got their own charm, and the best are scary good. The list contains the likes of Ronaldo, Romario, van Basten, Hugo Sanchez, and Alan Shearer. When deciding who wins the superlative, logic wasn’t to be enough. So I unpacked my tarot cards, ingested some illicit narcotics, and watched A Beautiful Mind with Italian dubs. Through the beauty of hidden codes, I’ve discovered that Die Bomber, Gerd Muller, was the greatest of them all.

To begin, we reflect on Muller’s international success with an acrostic of his name.

Germany

Eventually

Realized,

Despite

Miroslav’s

Uncanny

Longevity,

Legacy

Eternally

Reigns.

There are two German players with 14 goals in the World Cup – Muller, and Miroslav Klose. While this fact might incline one to believe that each player should share a spot as the national side’s most prolific striker, consider that it took Muller only two World Cups to accomplish this feat to Klose’s three (the all-time leader, by the way, is Ronaldo, who required four tournaments to accumulate his 15). On top of that, Muller scored an astonishing 10 goals in the 1970 World Cup alone. Think back to this year’s edition of the European Championships. The golden boot was awarded to the majestic Fernando Torres, who bagged a whopping three goals en route to Spain’s tourney win.

Beyond even the World Cup, Muller symbolized the ruthlessness of the 1970s West Germany team with his incredible strike rate. With 68 goals in 62 international appearances, his goal-to-game ratio is the best of any of the top 20 goalscorers (it took Pele 92 games to score his 77 goals, just in case you were wondering).

But do goals translate to success? Can we really say Muller was a great just because he was prolific? Perhaps not. We turn now to our next code: the anagram.

Gerd Muller – Dull Merger

Between 1950 and 1990, there were two national sides – East Germany and West Germany. It was only the latter that enjoyed any recurring success and featured some of the greatest players in history. Since the country was reunified – and since the merger of these two football teams – Germany has failed to win another World Cup. Muller (along with Beckenbauer and Hoeness) won the 1974 Cup against a famously dominant Dutch side that featured Cruyff, Neeskens, and van Hanegem, among others. The argument always goes that in order to be considered a great player, one has to win on the biggest stage. Muller did just that in football’s greatest era, when the Netherlands and Brazil were at or near their historic peaks.

But what does this say about his club career? Certainly Muller would have to match his World Cup performance in the Bundesliga to warrant the title of Best #9. To answer this question, we turn to the library. I picked out the ninth book on my bookshelf and turned to the ninth page, wherein a circled the ninth word on the ninth line. Certainly this will describe and thus justify Muller’s club career.

(The book, in case you were wondering, is Sociolinguistics: An Introduction by Peter Trudgill, printed in 1974 and repurchased at McKay Used Books in Chattanooga, Tennessee for one dollar. The recommended retail value in 1974 was $2.95.)

Widespread. When Muller joined Bayern Munich in 1964 from his hometown TSV 1861 Nordlingen, he already had 51 goals under his belt in 31 club matches. From there, his goalscoring frequency with Bayern can best be compared with Franz Schubert’s lieder-writing rate. (Not a classical music fan? They were both prolific). In Germany, Muller scored 617 goals in 638 appearances. These in no small way contributed to his four Bundesliga titles and three Champions League triumphs. Muller can thus rightfuly be described as widespread in that he scored goals all over the place. In terms of pure instinct, there has never been anyone better at finding the net. He did it 67 times in 49 games one season, in fact.

But how do we know that Muller is better than other #9s? It’s a pretty famous number, after all. The difference is – Muller’s coming was predicted and ordained by God, on page 9.

“And God blessed the man and he put the man to the field.”

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