Raumdeuter: The Space Investigator

Raumdeuter: The Space Investigator

“Ich bin ein Raumdeuter”

Bayern Munich’s German forward Thomas Muller responded when quizzed about his unique footballing style. The fact that it took a self-invented term to define Muller’s footballing prowess is a testament to the uniqueness to his role and style of play. It is a common fact that Muller is a world class winger/ forward, but fans and professionals alike are usually unable to pinpoint the attributes that make him such a potent attacker. 

Just what is the role of the ‘Raumdeuter’ in modern football and are there any other players in the same mold who play the specific role that Muller has spent years perfecting? 

A direct translation of the German term ‘Raumdeuter’ would be a space investigator, a highly fitting term to describe a man of Muller’s qualities. When we think of Muller, he comes up as a consistent scoring machine and chance creator and yet lacks the archetypal build of a world class forward, winger and attacking midfielder – positions on the field that he has occupied before. He is not the strongest nor fastest player on the pitch, and his dribbling certainly pales in comparison to his teammates’ such as Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez, but Muller always finds himself at the right place and the right time to either tap the ball into the net or set up a teammate for an easy finish. He owes this uncanny ability to be in the right positions to his footballing intelligence, more specifically in his spatial awareness and intelligent off the ball movement which enable him to constantly find and exploit space on the field. 

Muller likes to run in the channels between opposition fullbacks and center backs in the attacking third, even when he is played out wide as a winger. He anticipates rebounds, loose balls and passes in key areas in the attacking third and pounces on clear chances before the opposition can catch up to the play. This explains his extraordinary goal contributions, with 181 goals and 159 assists in 470 club appearances, which is almost a goal or an assist per game. This is remarkable for someone who primarily operates as a winger throughout his career.  

There are few other Raumdeuters in today’s game that command the same extraordinary footballing intelligence as Thomas Muller and certainly none that can match his versatility to play across the midfield and forward positions. But two players have areas in their game that are reminiscent of Muller’s role as a Raumdeuter for Bayern Munich.

Jose Callejon

Image Credit: Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

The first is Napoli’s Jose Callejon, a primarily right footed winger who like Muller, loves to drift centrally and hover in the penalty box to pounce on chances. This explains his goal scoring record which boosts four out of six seasons at Napoli in which he netted 10 or more goals whilst playing as a winger. While possessing more pace and greater close control, Callejon’s anticipation of space and play is on par to that of Muller’s.  

Image Credit: Getty Images

Another player who display the same characteristics of a Raumdeuter is Tottenham’s Dele Alli. On the surface, he has no outstanding technical abilities, be it pace, power or shooting. However, he still manages outstanding scoring and assist figures, average 13 goals and 10 assists in his past three seasonsWatching his plays, one would realize the typical Dele Alli goal involves him ghosting in on the blind side of defenders to execute a simple finish, owing to his anticipation and ability to get into the most dangerous spaces in the final third at the opportune movement. Although not as versatile as Muller, as Alli only operates centrally as an attacking midfielder and never on the wings, his style of play and characteristics are extremely similar to that of Muller himself.  

Other than the game of Football Manager and Muller himself, there has been few other who have popularized the term ‘Raumdeuter’ in modern football. Skeptical fans may even call it a fancy term invented by Muller himself which means nothing more than an attacking player with better movement and positioning. However, there is no denying that there really is something special about this class of footballers who possess extraordinary anticipation which make up for their lack of technical abilities, and we would do well to appreciate the uniqueness of these space interpreters’ footballing game. 

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