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Gerd Müller - my hero

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Jens Thurau
October 7, 2015

Gerd Müller has Alzheimer's. DW's Jens Thurau is still in shock. For him, the prolific goal scorer, nicknamed the "nation's bomber," will always be a young and dazzling hero, who could never go wrong.

Bildergalerie Gerd Müller Fußball WM gegen Niederlande Vorlage Tor 1974
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P.Robinson

Gerd Müller in a care home, relying on other people's help? The biggest goal scorer of all time, senile and confused? I have to say, that news really hit me hard.

There was a time, when I was nine or 10, one thing was crystal clear to me - Gerd Müller can do anything he sets his mind to, he'll live to be 100 years old and he will score 10,000 goals. To imagine that he could be old and ill one day was unfathomable.

I have never been a Bayern supporter. But I had a huge poster above my bed of Müller at the Football World Cup in 1970. He was wearing the green away jersey and, needless to say, he had just scored a goal.

With his arms spread wide he was running across the pitch cheering, he looked a bit like an aeroplane. His head thrust into the air, his face a picture of confidence - the confidence of someone who made scoring goals look natural and easy as pie. Boy, did I want to be like him.

But, alas, I wasn't. I was a shy lad and in my local football club, many (not all) players were better than me. Shortly after that World Cup, I did, however, score my first goal - bit of a lucky strike to be honest but never mind - I ran across the pitch with my arms open wide and my head held high, completely on my own.

I could almost convince myself I was wearing the green shirt, too.

Years later, I saw him live, at a friendly against Sweden in Hamburg. I think Germany lost as far as I can recall. But the match itself was irrelevant. It was all about my hero.

Of course, back then, footballers were not as ubiquitous as they are today - no presence on Facebook or Twitter and very few interviews by the side of the pitch.

And Müller didn't exactly have a way with words, but he didn't have to. Then there was the 1974 World Cup win. Müller scored the winning goal (scoring on the turn, which he could do like no other).

And then there was the debacle with the official dinner after the tournament - the players' wives were not invited - unlike the officials' wives. That's why my hero Müller and fellow national player Paul Breitner decided to boycott the event.

Bildergalerie Gerd Müller Fußball WM 1954 Paul Breitner München
Müller and Breitner after Germany's World Cup win in 1974Image: picture-alliance/dpa/UPI

There is a photo that shows the two smoking cigars in front of the hall where the dinner was held. He is invincible, you can just see it in his eyes.

Later, though, he wasn't doing that well anymore. He went to the US to open a restaurant in Florida, which went bust. He also drank too much. Bayern Munich took him back to Munich and supported him, like they do with all their old heroes.

A few years ago, he was in a TV ad for Müller dairy products, with current Bayern player Thomas Müller. He does seem old next to his younger, bouncy counterpart, but the old Gerd Müller is still there.

But then came the news that he left a training camp in Italy, confused. He was on a train to Germany without knowing exactly where he was. I found that terribly sad.

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DW correspondent Jens Thurau

Last week, Franz Roth - also part of the old Bayern star team - is said to have visited him in the care home, according to daily "Bild." He hardly spoke, the report says, but he said "Hello, Bull." And we all know that's his real name anyway, not Franz.

I was touched by the report, but I definitely don't want to see a picture of him in the care home.

I want to hold on to that image of him in the green shirt, with his arms spread wide. The image of a guy who scored more goals for Germany than he has had caps. And who always looked dead confident doing it.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau
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