If you've spent any time on a website like this one during the past week, you will have read about a wee winger at Barcelona. He's not too bad, because the news item that made the rounds said: "Lionel Messi surpassed Pele's milestone of goals in a calendar year by scoring for the 75th and 76th time in 2012 to move within nine of Gerd Muller's all-time record as Barcelona won 4-2 at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Sunday."
Argentina then only drew 0-0 in Riyadh against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, so Messi's still at 76. Muller's record, according to the report quoted above, stands at 85 and was set in 1972. Supposedly. As you will know, I'm not a man of distrustful nature, yet I read the news with something approaching scepticism.
For if Muller indeed racked up 85 goals in 1972, he must have scored 1.6 goals every week. In a country that has a winter break and knows only one major cup competition. For a club that only got to the quarter-finals of this one domestic cup and didn't reach a European final. And for a national team that, yes, won the European Championship but did so under the old system, meaning it took them less than a handful of games in that calendar year.
Four, to be precise: the two quarter finals against England, the semi and the final. Muller scored five goals in those four games. There were also three friendlies that year. Muller surely made the most of the opportunity and was on target four times each against USSR in May and Switzerland in November.
So that means his seven internationals in 2012 resulted in 13 goals for Muller. Needless to say, that's impressive, but is it really enough? We're still a hefty 72 goals shy of what is supposed to be his record. My suspicion grew and I decided to have a closer look at Muller's year in a Bayern shirt.
It began on January 20, 1972, with a game away at Fortuna Dusseldorf. On a foggy, damp afternoon, Muller had a very quiet game - until the 70th minute. Franz Krauthausen took a corner and tipped it to Uli Hoeness, who sent in a cross, which Fortuna's goalkeeper Wilfried Woyke misjudged. Muller headed home from close range for the only goal of the game.
Muller's football year ended on December 20, 1972, with a cup game against Barmbek-Uhlenhorst, a club based in Hamburg and at that time in the second division. He opened the scoring in the third minute from a Hoeness pass, then he made it 5-0 on 57 minutes when he moved past a defender and the goalkeeper in the tightest of spaces and just walked across the line with the ball at his feet. Four minutes from time, he completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot.
The 11 months in between brought many more games and many more goals, as Muller managed to stay healthy, did not miss an important game and was in great form. Yet my cursory glance at the stats that are easily available only served to deepen my doubts. I'm not a mathematical whiz-kid, but I just didn't think all those club football goals would really add up to more than 70.
Well, what can you do? I had to sit down and go through it round by round, game by game.
Luckily, there are people out there who've already done most of the work. There is a Bayern fanpage, for instance, that chronologically lists all the goals Muller scored in the Bundesliga. In the calendar year 1972, there were 42 of them, from 34 games.
It meant I now stood at 55 goals but had only two competitions left. Muller wasn't particularly productive during the 1971-72 Cup Winners' Cup and the only goal that means anything to us in this context was his strike against Steaua in the quarter-finals.
In the next season, 1972-73, Bayern played in the European Cup and that was good fur Muller's goal tally, because back then you'd usually face weaker opposition in the early rounds. In September 1972, Muller scored three goals against Galatasaray - then nowhere near as good as they are now - and seven in the following month against Omonia Nicosia from Cyprus.
Eleven more goals, and 66 now in total. Was it really possible that Muller had scored 20 goals in the domestic cup alone in 1972? I mean, how many games could he have had?
More than I thought, as it turned out. And yet not enough.
In those years, the German FA used two-legged ties in the cup, an unpopular and short-lived system (which, incidentally, is still used in Spain). But it didn't help Muller too much in the first half of the calendar year. He didn't score at all in the two games against Braunschweig in the round of 16 and, while he found the target three times in the quarter-finals against Cologne, Bayern were knocked out.
And in the second half of the year, there was only the Barmbek-Uhlenhorst tie we have already talked about. Muller scored one goal in the first leg, then the aforementioned hat-trick in the second leg.
And there we were, Muller and I. Stuck at 73 goals, from 55 games. I was stumped. Of course, I knew you should never place too much trust in stuff that gets bandied about on the internet because most journalists have a tendency to just copy something they have read elsewhere without verifying it first.
Yet a full dozen goals? That's quite a lot to attribute to a simple typo or maybe a mistake while adding up. I decided to have a look at the friendlies Bayern played that year, because whoever originally came up with this figure of 85 goals may have been foolish enough to count goals in friendlies, too.
That's when I made an astonishing discovery. The first half of the year was fairly normal, as Bayern played two friendlies - against Espanyol and Partizan - in January to prepare for the second half of the Bundesliga season. But after the summer break, the club's schedule was nothing short of murderous.
In the 37 days between July 31, 1972, when Bayern won 4-1 away at Bavarian neighbours Wacker Burghause, and September 6, 1972, when Bayern won 4-3 at Austria's Sturm Graz, the Munich giants played no less than 21 matches! There were games against famous Spanish teams such as Valencia and Athletic Bilbao and matches against the big Dutch clubs Ajax and Feyenoord. On August 17, Bayern even played the West German Olympic team in front of 6,000 people in Herzogenaurach. Muller scored one goal for Bayern in this game.
Wait a moment.
Somewhere in the back of my mind there was something about the 1972 Munich Olympics and its repercussions for our domestic game. A hazy piece of information I had once used to write about... about... yes, about strange and forgotten cup competitions!
Due to the Olympics in Germany, the start of the 1972-73 Bundesliga season had been pushed back to September 16. It meant the clubs had to go many weeks without competitive games - which were their main source of income back then. That explains why Bayern, with their expensive squad, went brainstorming like mad. And why a new competition was introduced.
It was dubbed the DFB-Ligapokal - or League Cup - and 32 clubs took part (16 of the 18 Bundesliga teams and 16 sides from the five-tiered second division). They were put into eight groups of four teams, so that every team played six games in this first stage of the competition.
They didn't take it excessively seriously. Bayern staged their home game against Stuttgart in Ulm and attracted 10,000 fans eager to see some famous players. But only three regulars saw action (Georg Schwarzenbeck, Rainer Zobel and Johnny Hansen), which enraged a crowd that had paid good money. A 29-year-old photographer even filed a fraud lawsuit against Bayern.
But for the rest of the competition, Bayern did play their stars, including Muller. On August 2, he scored a brace against 1860. Eleven days later, he scored a hat-trick in the first leg against Stuttgart. On August 16, he was on target once against second-division Hof. One week later, he scored a hat-trick in the return match against 1860. And on September 3, when Bayern lost 5-4 against Hof and were eliminated from the DFB-Ligapokal, Muller had another hat trick.
Twelve goals in five obscure and forgotten but back then official games! The internet hadn't lied - Gerd Muller did indeed score 85 goals in that amazing calendar year!
This original DFB-Ligapokal, by the way, was ultimately won by Hamburg. It wasn't heard from again for the next quarter of a century. But I guess Gerd Muller's admirers are right now pretty happy that they decided to stage this one-off back in 1972.