After weeks of speculation over the future of Thomas Mueller that could generally be taken rather lightly, the player dropped a bomb on Wednesday by demanding a meeting with the Bayern Munich chiefs to clarify his role at the club.
Mueller started in 25 Bundesliga games in 2013-14, but he was used in a variety of positions, often deputizing for an injured player. He was also benched in several key Champions League fixtures, and in an interview with Hamburg magazine Stern (h/t The Guardian), the 24-year-old revealed that he is not prepared to sit idly and uncertain of his role at the club.
"I've reached the point where I want to know if I am an essential component of the Bayern Munich first XI for the new season and if the club has plans for me in the coming years," he said.
Mueller then warned: "I am not the type of guy that says 'alright, I have played a good part and will keep my mouth shut and everyone else is able to do with me whatever he wants.'"
The versatile attacker then dropped a hint that he would consider a transfer to Manchester United (which Bild later reported the Red Devils are keen to make a reality after making a formal inquiry) if his situation at Bayern were not resolved:
"It’s no secret that [United manager] Louis van Gaal and I have a relationship that goes a little beyond the normal relationship between coaches and players."
A model professional, native Bavarian and Bayern player from the age of 10, Mueller would not make such comments lightly. And he does have reason to call for such a meeting, considering the value he's brought to the team since his debut in the fall of 2009, as well as his being shuffled from position to position in the Bayern line-up and benchings in key Champions League matches against Real Madrid and Arsenal.
For Bayern to lose Mueller would be a huge failing of the club on a number of levels, and the club therefore must do anything necessary to keep him in their ranks.
In sporting terms, every coach who has ever doubted Mueller has later come to regret it. Before the 2010 World Cup, Diego Maradona famously mistook the player for a ball boy. Mueller went on to finish the tournament as top scorer, with Germany's elimination at the hands of Spain coming in the one match in which he didn't appear due to suspension. Joachim Loew removed the Bayern man from his starting XI after a few poor performances in the group stage of Euro 2012 and Germany were soon eliminated by Italy.
Pep Guardiola benched Mueller in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final with Real Madrid and Bayern were toothless up front, losing 1-0 to Los Blancos. He learned from his mistake in the DFB-Pokal final, in which Mueller played for 120 minutes and scored the clincher at the death.
One coach who never doubted Mueller was Louis van Gaal, who once famously said (via Rheinische Post) that Mueller would always play while he was in charge.
Although not always the flashiest player, Mueller is exceptionally effective. Having found the net 26 times and provided 15 assists, Mueller directly contributed to more goals than any Bayern player in 2013-14. As a professional, his goals and assists tallies are already approaching the century mark, at 89 and 87, respectively.
When Bayern have needed a goal, he's rarely been unable to at least provide a chance.
Beyond the sporting level, Mueller is a symbol that Bayern must treat with utmost care. Born in Weilheim, just over a half-hour train ride away from central Munich, Mueller is a Bayern man through and through. He echoed comments Philipp Lahm made in 2008 in his aforementioned Stern interview, rightly pointing out that "as a Munich boy your test at Bayern Munich is always a bit tougher, but [players from the youth academy] are the grassroots of this club."
Indeed, Mueller has found it a bit tougher under Guardiola, who last season preferred Arjen Robben on the right wing and Franck Ribery (and later Mario Goetze) on the left. Among the central midfield positions, Mueller was not often selected as part of a not-so-advanced trio. And in the striker role, Mueller will have to compete with star signing and the reigning Bundesliga top scorer, Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern pride themselves on being a club of principles—one in which the commitment of a strong local core will provide a certain x-factor. A club that will always take care of their own.
Competition from the Dutchman Robben, coupled with the hiring of the Polish Lewandowski, Dortmund youth Goetze and Spaniard Thiago Alcantara has marginalized the local boy Mueller. To let such a gem slip from their grasp as he enters the prime of his career would be immensely damaging to Bayern—not only in sporting terms, but in terms of the club's reputation.
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will have to tread carefully in the coming months, especially from the time of his meeting with Mueller. The former striker has, to date, been more accommodating to Guardiola, a prestige signing who has bolstered the club's marketability who may not entirely understand its ethos, than any other coach during his tenure.
But if the trainer is at odds with Mueller, Rummenigge must put his foot down in favour of the local boy, the dedicated servant and symbol of what Bayern is meant to be.