From 'Der Bomber', a devastating mortar shell.
For most of his career, Gerd Müller's nickname felt like a well-intentioned mistake. Evocative, sure, but inaccurate. Bayern's all-time record scorer was far more lethal at close quarters, providing the decisive blow with the equivalent of a bayonet – a flick, a slide, a header, often within touching distance of the goal itself.
But his second effort in the replay of the 1974 European Cup final was deadly ordnance, lobbed from range with precision. Forget Müller's image as a football commando causing mayhem behind enemy lines. Here was the real thing, a looping projectile that could have been plotted out on a ballistics chart.
But it also very nearly never happened.
Two days earlier, on the same Heysel Stadium pitch, Müller had endured a quiet night as Bayern faced Atlético Madrid in their first attempt to settle the final. The Bundesliga champions had appeared fazed in Brussels, no German side having ever lifted the European Cup. That long wait was starting to irk back home, where Kicker magazine had growled: 'It's now or never!'
Defeat was not going to cut it. But it looked inevitable when Atlético made the breakthrough deep into extra time, Luis Aragonés burying a free-kick on 114 minutes. Just as well, then, for Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, the centre-back letting loose from distance in the closing seconds. Miguel Reina, father of AC Milan goalkeeper Pepe, could only flail at the ball. Bayern, and Müller, would fight again.
And so to the only replay in European Cup final history, afar more one-sided affair. This time, Udo Lattek's key performers found their mojo. Several had conquered Europe with West Germany in 1972, and it was two members of that side who shared out Bayern's four unanswered goals – starting with Uli Hoeness just before the half-hour. Then came Müller's opening salvo, a superb rifled effort from a tight angle on 56 minutes.
That, too, was a strike which defied his reputation as "a man of small goals", as West Germany coach Helmut Schön once described him. Müller's second, however, was on a higher plane yet. Of instinct, control and audacity. For Reina, it was the fuel of nightmares. Pure, distilled torment.
Like many of Bayern's most ominous moves during the1970s, this one started with Franz Beckenbauer. The captain shuffles the ball forward to Jupp Kapellmann, who pushes it further upfield. Hoeness gets muscled out of possession but jogs back to mop up, before laying the ball off to Rainer Zobel. The tempo is languid, breezy, deceptive.
All this time, Müller has been lurking in front of the defence, waiting for his moment. Zobel provides it with a wonderful chipped pass. And there, on the edge of the area, Müller sprints to meet the ball, letting it bounce at his side. The spin from Zobel's pass holds it up awkwardly, but Müller adjusts. He hasn't once glanced at goal or Reina's position, slightly off his line. He doesn’t need to. He knows. And with a swivel of the hips, he dinks the ball skyward.
Everything inside the stadium stops. Except for the ball– its arc high and graceful. And Reina, stumbling backwards, leaping. Time slows, enough perhaps for Müller to recall his introduction to then Bayern coach Zlatko Čajkovski ten years earlier. "I am not putting that little elephant in among my string of thoroughbreds," vows the Croatian, who also coined the striker's other famous nickname: 'Kleines dickes Müller' (Short, fat Müller).
But Müller was neither. He was 'Der Bomber' – and nevermore so than when his perfect lob, all vision and application, dropped under Reina's bar, landed behind the goal line, and detonated.