Sporting his Lederhosen and clutching a freshly-poured Maß of Paulaner Weißbier, Thomas Muller looked every inch the symbol of Bayern Munich as the squad made their annual pilgrimage to Oktoberfest on Sunday.
After all, this is a man who was born in a quaint Bavarian town an hour’s drive south-west of Munich and has played for Bayern – his one and only club – since the age of 11.
But while the forward is the first name many football fans would associate with Bayern, for the first time he is being forced to contemplate the unpleasant possibility that his future may lie elsewhere.
Muller looked every inch the club’s symbolic figure in his Lederhosen on Sunday
But Muller has become accustomed to a back-up role as a substitute in recent weeks
The main man for so many years, Muller, now 30, has seen his role diminished to become very much a bench warmer under manager Niko Kovac this season.
Muller has been named among the substitutes for Bayern’s last five matches – the Bundesliga fixtures against Cologne, Paderborn and Hoffenheim plus their two Champions League games against Red Star Belgrade and Tottenham.
He usually gets a run-out at some point, even if only for the last 10 minutes, but the fact Bayern’s astonishing 7-2 win at Spurs last week unfolded entirely without him suggests he may no longer be considered a man for the big occasion.
Earlier in the season, Muller started three of Bayern’s first four Bundesliga matches but didn’t complete any of them.
His game time has since shrivelled – just 56 minutes in their last five fixtures – and the only game he has completed this season was against fourth division Energie Cottbus in the first round of the German Cup.
Bayern manager Niko Kovac has named Muller among the substitutes for their last five games
Muller has naturally been frustrated to be demoted from first choice to ‘squad player’
It all suggests that Muller has been demoted to the role of ‘squad player’ in Kovac’s thinking, quite the blow for someone who has played 450 times for Bayern in the past decade, scoring 186 goals and contributing 171 assists.
When Muller does get on the pitch there are still glimpses of the old magic – he required just a few minutes having come off the bench to score against Red Star, his only goal of the season so far.
And he made an almost immediate impact when brought off the bench with Bayern trailing Hoffenheim 1-0 on Saturday, crossing for Robert Lewandowski to equalise.
Kovac’s comments before Saturday’s game at the Allianz Arena, however, were more illustrative of his situation.
‘Thomas is very important, but so too are the other players,’ Kovac said. ‘If we need a player in an emergency, then for sure he will get his minutes.’
The message that Muller will be warming the bench for the foreseeable future is now clear
His one goal so far this season came off the bench in the Champions League win over Red Star
Muller this season
August 12 vs Energie Cottbus
Started, played 90…