Munich - In the rolling foothills of the Bavarian alps,
where cows lazily chew grass on sun-drenched meadows, Germany and Bayern Munich
star Thomas Mueller is the pride of his ex-club TSV Paehl.
"Did you know that the nicest, most popular and
probably Germany's best current footballer -- Thomas Mueller -- learnt to play
football in the youth teams of TSV Paehl until he was 10?," the club
proudly boasts on its website as it invites youth recruits.
Many young Bavarians would love to follow Mueller's path and
lift the Champions League and World Cup for club and country.
Paehl, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Munich, is where
Mueller, 26, grew up and played football before joining Bayern's academy, just
before his 11th birthday.
He won the 2013 treble of Champions League, German league
and cup titles with Bayern then the 2014 World Cup with 'Die Mannschaft' and
has made more than 70 appearances for Germany since his 2010 debut.
- obvious talent -
He scored 20 goals in 31 league games for Bayern last season
and is the all-time leading German goal-scorer in Europe with 36 Champions
League goals over nine seasons.
Mueller's parents and relatives still live in Paehl.
Younger brother Simon is an attacking midfielder for TSV's
first team in the Bavarian regional league and has a backroom job at FC Bayern.
Thomas Mueller lives near Paehl, but often returns home to
play cards with friends and watch his brother play.
Also read: Guardiola criticised over Mueller omission - press
"He's the same person he always was, very grounded. He
doesn't act like a star at all," his former coach at TSV Paehl Wolfgang
Czerwenka told AFP.
"We're all very proud of him and he hasn't forgotten
us. Through his connections, new balls or sets of playing shirts often find
their way here."
When TSV struggled to replace the clubhouse roof, Mueller
donated 20,000 euros ($22,500) so the work could go ahead.
A group from TSV Paehl regularly travel to Bayern's games --
home and away -- to watch Mueller play.
"You could see in the first few years that he had
talent," Alfred Greiner, who runs TSV's football section, told AFP.
"He worked hard, could do things the other children
couldn't and never seemed to get injured."
Even today, Mueller is rarely injured.
He last missed a few games with a torn leg muscle in the
2013/14 season and picked up only a couple of knocks last season.
Whether his robustness is down to the Bavarian air is
debatable. But Mueller would look just as comfortable bantering with locals and
serving frothy mugs in Paehl's beer garden as he does scoring goals for Bayern
"He's just as polite now as he was as a boy, he's
always on the go with FC Bayern, but when he comes to visit, he often stops for
a chat," added Greiner.
"People sometimes mistake his lack of attention on them
for arrogance, but he simply can't talk to everyone who wants to speak to
Czerwenka was Mueller's coach at TSV in the 1999-2000 season
before he joined Bayern's academy.
- 100 goals in a season -
"Word had got around in the local clubs that we had an
exceptional footballer," remembered Czerwenka.
"He was technically very strong and incredibly fast.
"The team scored something like 160 goals that season.
Although he was tightly marked, Thomas created space for others to score and
still ended up scoring more than 100 goals himself.
"One time, we were playing away to the international
school at Starnberg (the neighbouring town).
"They were second to us in the league and the match
would decide the title.
"We took Thomas, even though he was a year younger than
the other boys, and he was on the bench for the first-half.
"It was 1-0 at the break, but Thomas played the second
half, scored four goals and set up the other one. We won 5-1," added
Czerwenka with a smile.
Mueller was the pride of Paehl when he made his breakthrough
at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, finishing top scorer and best young
player just before his 21st birthday.
TSV Paehl will again be following their local hero at Euro
"When there's a big game on in mid-week, the first team
organise their training for another day so they can watch on the clubhouse's
TV," said Czerwenka.
"You can be sure the place will be full for Germany's
games in France this summer."
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