BERLIN: Thomas Mueller made his 300th Bundesliga appearance for Bayern Munich on Saturday, cementing his status as one of a dying breed to have only ever played for just one professional club.
The 29-year-old attacking midfielder reached the milestone in Bayern's 4-0 demolition of Hanover 96. Of all the statistics surrounding Mueller's career, the most eye-catching is that Bayern are unbeaten in the 84 league games in which he has scored.
Although he failed to find the net against Hanover, he did set up the opening goal for Joshua Kimmich. He picked up the first straight red card of any otherwise well-behaved career in Wednesday's thrilling 3-3 Champions League draw at Ajax after being sent off for accidentally kicking Nicholas Tagliafico in the head. Although Mueller argued about the decision in the immediate aftermath, he was later quick to apologise.
His golden reputation was tarnished by poor displays in Germany's woeful World Cup performances, but he has fought his way back into Niko Kovac's starting line-up with Bayern after a spell on the bench last month following a dip in form for the club. He has now made 463 appearances for Bayern in all competitions, scoring 181 goals and creating 157 more, since joining in 2000 at the age of 10.
Born in the Bavarian town of Paehl, south of Bayern Munich, Mueller rose steadily through Bayern's youth set-up and caught the eye of then head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in 2007-08 after scoring 18 goals in 26 games for the Under-19s.
Mueller made his Bundesliga debut a month before his 19th birthday, coming off the bench on the opening day of the 2008-09 season.
Klinsmann was sacked in April 2009, but one of his successors, Louis van Gaal, propelled Mueller into Bayern's first team.
"He threw me in at the deep end," Mueller said.
"I made my debut before he arrived, but he then relied on me continually.
"I would say that my biggest influence was Louis van Gaal, because I was at the best age to be influenced."
Van Gaal's faith was rewarded with 13 goals and 10 assists as Bayern won the Bundesliga and German Cup in 2009-10.
"Even if Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are available, Mueller will always play in my team," Van Gaal famously declared.
Regained coaches' confidence
Having been mistaken for a ball boy by Diego Maradona after making his Germany debut in March 2010, Mueller made his international breakthrough at that year's World Cup, winning the Golden Boot as top-scorer in South Africa with five goals and three assists, earning him the best young player award, aged just 20.
He continued to flourish for Bayern, but suffered Champions League heartbreak in the final on home turf at the Allianz Arena in May 2012.
Mueller scored a header to put Bayern 1-0 up seven minutes from time in the final against Chelsea, only for Didier Drogba to equalise minutes later. The English side won on penalties.
Bayern and Mueller finally won their third Champions League final in four years by beating Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley in 2013, but the pinnacle of Mueller's career came a year later as Germany won the World Cup in Brazil.
Mueller again scored five goals, including a hat-trick in the opening 4-0 rout of Portugal and the first goal in the unforgettable 7-1 semi-final thrashing of Brazil.
He was also a key component in Bayern winning consecutive Bundesliga titles in each of the last six seasons under Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti.
His most prolific season was in 2015/16 when he hit 20 league goals and 32 in all competitions as Mueller and Robert Lewandowski contributed 74 goals towards Bayern's league and cup double.
Mueller was benched by Ancelotti for the first time last season, then by Kovac this campaign, but each time he has played himself back into his coach's favour.
Now his goal is to stay with Bayern and break the joint record of eight Bundesliga titles held by club greats Oliver Kahn, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery and Mehmet Scholl.