FIFA’s greatest obstacles? Thomas Müller, ugly football, and you

As of last Sunday the 2019/20 football season, pickled and zombified beyond its natural expiry, finally came to an end. Off the back of some alarmingly frantic games in the latter stages, the Champions League final promised box-to-box drama and defensive chaos, but ultimately played out exactly as all Champions League finals often do: two hours of nervy, methodical human chess, resulting in Bayern Munich’s cranking mechanical stiflement of the gold-plated Paris Saint-Germain.

The talisman of that great Bavarian mechanism was inevitable, at least to those who follow football. Thomas Müller, despite being an attacker and despite not scoring, was central to Bayern’s plan, harrying and nibbling at PSG when out of possession and tugging and twisting their defence when his team had it. Now 30, Müller is emblematic of Bayern Munich and the German national team’s near-perpetual success over the past decade.

He’s also, famously, a bit of a footballing enigma. A contradiction of a player who seems to scuff his way impossibly through games, all elbows and knees and loose-fitting shin pads. His success at the weekend, being a success of the most Thomas Müller kind, reminded me of an article in ESPN about the great obstacle his awkwardness tends to propose for a particular football game: by FIFA’s standards, one of the best players in one of the world’s best teams is, technically, not very good.

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