When Jurgen Klinsmann became Bayern Munich manager, he received a tip from his childhood hero Gerd Muller about a promising forward in the reserves, namesake Thomas Muller.
Klinsmann gave the 19-year-old his debut and the rest is history. More than a decade later, Muller has Champions League titles and a World Cup in the bag and remains Germany’s most important player as they face England again in a major tournament.
The way in which Klinsmann came across him is an example of how to pass the baton from one generation to another. It’s why Germany have reached 14 major finals compared to England’s one.
Thomas Muller will be at the heart of Germany’s plans to face England in the Euro 2020 last-16
Jurgen Klinsmann remembers picking out the 19-year-old for his debut, since he’s thrived
‘Gerd Muller was my idol as a kid,’ explains Klinsmann.
‘Bayern looked after him with a job coaching the under-23s. I’d often walk over to have a chat with him and he told me about Thomas, “an amazing player with the instinct to find room”.
‘I invited four of the players to train with the first-team and knew right away I wanted Thomas and Holger Badstuber to stay.’
Muller substituted legends Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger in his first two Bayern appearances – an immediate clue he was destined for keeping the highest company.
Glittering success followed until 2019 when Joachim Low surprisingly ditched him from the national team, claiming he was too old. After a poor build-up to Euro 2020, the decision was reversed and an SOS appeal made for Muller and Mats Hummels to return.
Klinsmann is a huge fan of the forward, praising his skill and leadership qualities on the pitch
Muller was ditched by Joachim Low but has been given no choice but to get him back involved
‘It was logical to bring them back,’ says Klinsmann. ‘You can’t win with only young players going two hundred miles an hour. You need different cards in your pocket and to sometimes calm the game down. That’s what Thomas provides.
‘He is a leader and stop things getting too hectic. I saw it late on against Hungary. He literally told them to relax for a second and just play.
‘As a personality, he is fun but he is serious about his football. He understands his strengths, and weaknesses, and how to roam and create space for himself.
‘His finishing is amazing because he doesn’t do it with any type of force. He just sees the gaps.’
Klinsmann is one of Germany’s great football exports. He won Serie A with Inter Milan, charmed Tottenham fans in two spells at White Hart Lane and managed the national teams of Germany – current boss Low was his assistant – and the United States.
He was part of the German side that won the World Cup in 1990, beating England on penalties in the semi-final, but missed the rematch six years later with a calf injury though he returned as captain for the final against the Czech Republic to lift the trophy.
‘I sat on the bench for the England game at Wembley,’ he recalls. ‘The atmosphere was just unbelievable. The fans sang Football’s Coming Home for 120 minutes. It was gorgeous.
‘If we’d lost, we would have congratulated that English team because they played outstanding. Once a game finishes with penalties, it can go either way. You never know beforehand.’
Klinsmann is one of Germany’s great star, and has considerable experience against England…
In the BBC studio last week, Klinsmann looked anxious as Germany scraped a 2-2 draw against Hungary to reach the last-16.
‘The frustrating part was they never really got a flow,’ he admits. We hoped they would pick up where they left off against Portugal (4-2) but Hungary were well prepared, had a defensive gameplan and Germany couldn’t find solutions.
‘That was the scary part. We couldn’t find a way on the wings, down the middle or shooting from distance. It was nerve-wracking.’
For once, Germany aren’t favourites for the next game. But Klinsmann dismisses the idea his countrymen are pessimistic or less involved than the English public.
‘The World Cup in Russia where we didn’t qualify from the group left a very deep sting in Germany,’ he reflects. ‘On Tuesday, they want us to put in a good display. If we lose against a better team, they will forgive. But they want to see a performance like the one against Portugal.
‘Games against England in big tournaments have a special meaning for us. We admire English football, it dates back to watching Liverpool and other clubs in the 1970s. Everyone in Germany will be sitting in front of the TV to watch this match.
‘We are not fearing the worst. Opinions about the team have been up and down, as they have been in England after the Croatia and Scotland games.
‘I think we are going to see an exciting match because England and Germany are both strongest in attack with young players who are fun to watch.
‘We have seen Phil Foden, Mason Mount and now Bukayo Saka breaking through. It’s similar with Germany side with Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz. It would be fun to see a foot race between Timo Werner and Kyle Walker!
‘It’s an exciting bunch on both sides. What we don’t know is who will hit their peak on Tuesday.’
Juergen Klinsmann is part of the BBC Football team. Follow Euro 2020 across the BBC on TV, radio and online.