Mario Götze will always be thought of fondly by German football fans, thanks to his winning goal against Argentina in the final of the 2014 Brazil World Cup. But in that sternly-contested game, there was one man who truly pulled the strings for Germany, a man who doesn't always get the respect he deserves: Thomas Müller.
A stalwart of the national team with over 15 years of experience at the top of European football, the Bayern Munich forward played a key part in securing his nation their first international trophy of the 21st century. But the exact role he occupies within a team has often been the source of deliberation and confusion. What exactly is it that makes Müller so good?
In this article, we'll be answering that question by explaining a specific position on the pitch that lots of people are unaware of. We're going to hone in on the role of the raumdeuter, explaining the origins of this term and describing in detail what the key responsibilities and necessary skills of this position are. Once we're finished, you'll have a much better understanding of how this World Cup-winning player has changed many people's perceptions about how best to hurt opposition defences.
According to renowned football tactics channel Tifo, "the Raumdeuter role is a relatively new tactical concept". This is hardly surprising when you realise that its origins start with a current player — the aforementioned Thomas Müller, who invented the term himself.
His stroke of creativity came in a 2011 interview, when he explained his role within the Bayern Munich setup by saying "Ich bin ein Raumdeuter" - which translates roughly as "I am an interpreter of space", or "I am a space investigator".
Müller's insightful comment came in response to a question about the hard-to-pin-down role he was playing in the Bayern Munich first team, and it shone a light on how he viewed himself. "Raumdeuter" isn't a traditional position on the football pitch, but its name reflects the major focus of the role: space.
Having been introduced to the world by Müller himself, the Raumdeuter position has since grown in popularity thanks to its inclusion within Football Manager. But the "space investigator" position is still a difficult one to define; what exactly is a raumdeuter?
Thomas Müller established himself as a first team player at Bayern Munich during the 2009-10 season, when Louis Van Gaal was boss. The Dutchman was the first coach to push him into this kind of position, and his productive, highly clinical nature inside the box ever since has been a source of much speculation; how is it that the German international is able to grab so many goals and assists?
Well, for those who aren't sure about the finer details, Müller's game essentially revolves around wriggling into pockets of space in and around the opposition penalty area, and proceeding to wreak havoc. He's been described as moving around with the freedom of a libero (aka a sweeper), just in much more advanced areas, with less of an emphasis on build-up play and more of a focus on the end result: goals and assists.
Since his debut in 2008, the original Raumdeuter has racked up a hugely impressive 106 goals and 121 assists in 291 games, his contributions playing a crucial role in Bayern Munich's domination of the Bundesliga over the past decade. He's usually defined as being in the Number 10 slot behind the striker, in a 4-2-3-1 shape. This role is almost like that of a false 9 — SmarterScout data draws parallels between Müller's contributions and those of Roberto Firmino at Liverpool — but the position is also more subtle, and more rare than that. He's also played as a kind of inverted winger (left or right), but whatever it's written as on the teamsheet, and however he's deployed by each coach, he seems to always have the ability and license to roam around various different advanced areas of the pitch.
As such, the raumdeuter role is quite a tricky one to pin down. At its core, it's all about finding space in crucial areas of the final third, and receiving the ball in these pockets of space. Getting yourself in the position to pick up the ball and either set up a chance or take a shot on goal is the key facet of the raumdeuter role; while there are various different factors that contribute towards players having this ability, probably the most important thing at play here is timing and anticipation.
Efficacy as a raumdeuter relies on being smart — tactical and mental strengths are the most important currency here. We'll flesh this out in the next section of this article, as we guide you through the key skills of any good raumdeuter.
The raumdeuter tends to be quite an underrated player, because the space investigator's ability to go under the radar and avoid markers is essentially what gives them their power. You'll understand this more as you read through the core skills of the role...
As we've mentioned, the main purpose of the role is to find space in dangerous areas of the pitch, so it goes without saying that intelligent movement is absolutely crucial. In this position, players need to be able to drift away from defenders at the right moments, giving their marker the slip to the point that centre-backs only realise they've lost their man once the ball is already nestled in the back of the net.
This goes hand in hand with our last point. The raumdeuter isn't just intelligent with their own movement, they also need to have a superior awareness of where opposition players and teammates are at all times. This is crucial when it comes to making the right decision in the penalty box, where split-second timing is super important.
It's a bit of a cliché that the best creative players are always two or three steps ahead of those marking them, but for the raumdeuter, it's absolutely true. These players don't rely on a fancy dribble or long-range shot to beat their opponents; instead, they find and exploit space, so thinking ahead to where they might find these pockets is essential.
As defined by Tifo Football's Alex Stewart in a Bundesliga video, players like Müller tend to have a "telepathic understanding of intentions", meaning they're excellent at guiding and instructing their teammates, directing their movements in an important positionally-minded leadership role.
Now, all of this is useless is the player in question can't finish off an opportunity with a killer pass or shot on goal. After drifting off into dangerous areas, the raumdeuter needs to be able to consistently provide the final product.
It goes without saying that the main man when it comes to the raumdeuter position is Bayern Munich's Thomas Müller. He's not super strong or lightning fast, and he's not even an elite-level dribbler or passer. What makes him so good is his ability to find a yard of space in the most important area of the pitch, and when he gets into the final third, he does the simple things incredibly well — his outstanding goals and assists record is a testament to that.
Another player who has been linked with the role Müller pioneered is England international Dele Alli, who made waves as a supremely talented young player at Tottenham Hotspur, excelling under Mauricio Pochettino in particular. While he's gone off the boil in recent seasons, his ability to drift into key positions in the penalty area and exploit the opposition's defence has led to him being viewed by many as a natural raumdeuter in football.
36-year-old Spanish forward Jose Callejon, a former Real Madrid man who currently plies his trade at Granada, is a different player to Müller, with a bit more pace and a tendency to start out wide on the right. However, his ability to drift into space and add an attacking sucker punch within a possession-oriented tactical system has helped him guide multiple teams to success, as well as gaining him strong associations with the raumdeuter concept.
The raumdeuter isn't the only interesting new footballing phenomenon to have emerged from Germany in recent years. Ideas such as gegenpressing, pioneered by coaches like Jurgen Klopp and Ralf Rangnick, have had a huge impact on the dominant style of play across Europe, with most Premier League teams incorporating intricately-structured counter-pressing systems these days. Meanwhile, innovative clubs such as Union Berlin and the controversial RB Leipzig have also made fascinating contributions to modern football.
Continue expanding your understanding of the German game by reading our guide to The Red Bull Philosophy and its legacy within Germany and beyond.
Muller's raumdeuter role contains parallels with the False 9 concept, although this is a more specific position: the false 9 is best defined as a centre-forward who is stationed high up the pitch but has the freedom to roam around and drop back into deeper positions to receive the ball and link up play. Think of Roberto Firmino, or Cesc Fabregas in the Spain national team, for example.
Another term that has been developed on the European continent to describe a hybrid of an attacking midfielder and a striker is the Italian-originating "trequartista" — translating as "three-quarters", this role describes creative players who operate in the spaces between midfield and attack.
The primary job of the striker in football is to occupy the most advanced areas of the pitch, scoring goals, holding up the ball, linking with other attacking players and generally causing trouble for opposition defenders, through a mixture of pressing, intelligent movement, and chance creation.