In modern times, football can often become quite mechanical.
There are the same few formations with rigid predefined roles in place.
Teams play in predictable ways and players often fit the same strict molds.
But sometimes, players escape this monotony and create their own unique niche that separates them from the pack.
One intriguing method that has evolved lately is the Raumdeuter role.
And while other concepts like the Libero, Mediocentro and Regista are well understood, it is an intriguing concept that has been a source of some confusion.
So let us dig deep and try to find out its origin, its tactical implications, the players defining this role, and what the future holds for it.
What Is the Raumdeuter Role?
The term was coined by Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller, the original Raumdeuter. Raumdeuter literally translates to “Space Interpreter”. And so a casual title he gave to himself seems to be the most accurate description of his qualities. A Raumdeuter is not the best dribbler, he is not the best passer in the side, nor someone with the strongest shot, but the spatial awareness and smart movement are what makes this role so special.
In 2011, when asked by a reporter what makes him so special, Muller replied “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter”.
The ability to use space and find free pockets in contested areas makes a Raumdeuter perfect against deep blocks and helps create chances in the final third.
If the role were to be summed up in one word, it would have to be anticipation. That is exactly what makes a player playing this role so special.
They are able to anticipate where the passes will come from and attain that position before the defenders.
And while some may call it instinct, it requires a lot of intelligence and understanding of the game.
This understanding of space also helps a Raumdeuter defend better as they predict where the ball may go next.
Starting as a nickname, the role has since gained popularity featuring in the famous video game Football Manager and is expected to become a household tactical role due to the exploits of Muller.
Such is the brilliance of Thomas Muller that no other player shows the same attributes as him and he is the only Raumdeuter at present.
So when we explore what constitutes a Raumdeuter, all we will be doing is taking a closer look at Raumdeuter.
Thomas Muller: The Quintessential Raumdeuter
Since debuting for Bayern back in 2008, the breakthrough of Muller happened under Louis Van Gaal.
He was employed as a striker by the legendary Dutch coach, and he proved his mettle becoming a regular early in his career. He grabbed as many as 13 goals in his breakout season.
But as players like Mandzukic and Lewandowski came, Muller started to play behind the striker. And this is where his unique qualities started becoming apparent.
Muller was exceptional in the World Cup of 2010 where he truly announced himself to the world winning the golden boot and inspiring his team to the semi finals.
Had he not been suspended for the semi-finals, perhaps Germany could have gone a step further.
In any case, Muller became a regular under several managers including Jupp Heyneckes, and went on to win the Champions League with Bayern too.
His best season at Bayern came in the final season of Pep Guardiola’s reign when he scored 20 Bundesliga goals in a prolific campaign.
Since then he has remained a regular for Bayern and till now remains a consistent goalscorer and a reliable creator.
Under Pep, he was not the main creative outlet. Most of the play went through Robben and Ribery.
But as the ball used to come into the box through Lahm or Alaba, one would often find Muller on the end of it.
On other occasions, the through ball from Alonso or Thiago used to find Muller who would slot the ball into the box for Lewandowski to do the honors.
When you notice his game, there is nothing flashy about it. The passes seem obvious, the pace seems ordinary, and the dribbling is uninspiring.
But whenever there is a cross arriving, Muller is mostly unmarked and ready to pounce.
Is the whole world defending poorly or is there a method to the madness?
Of course, there is.
Another aspect of Muller’s game that is impressive is his timing. For someone often so advanced as an attacking option, he rarely is caught offside.
Instead, he evades the offside trap regularly with his exceptional movement.
And when he wants the ball, he signals to his teammates who just have to find him and not worry about the offside trap.
When you analyze a Thomas Muller performance, what you will not see are flashy dribbles and blistering pace.
Instead you will see exceptional manipulation of players, quick combination play, and some exceptional movement.
When Joachim Loew, his coach with Germany, was asked about Muller, he called him an unorthodox player who keeps thinking “how can I score a goal?”.
That is exactly how he operates. He is not as concerned with the aesthetics of the whole thing, he just wants to find an extra inch and put the ball in the back of the net.
His finishing shows the same knack of getting things done.
His thin frame does not look the most elegant in front of the goal, but he does the job often finishing with his first touch surprising the keeper.
Where Does a Raumdeuter Play?
If you look at Muller’s game and examine the positions one finds him in, a Raumdeuter starts the game out wide and then drifts in centrally when the need arises.
Essentially, one gets more space out wide initially, and slowly the game gets moved to the center by smart movement and quick movement.
Another position one sees a Raumdeuter take up is between the midfield and attack, so that the natural spaces left in between are utilized.
Out wide, there is a clever understanding of the dead space where both center-back and wing-back are uncomfortable.
That is where a Raumdeuter runs into so that he finds space from where to cross the ball in while remaining unattended.
This creative movement has made Muller quite prolific in terms of assists as well.
Last season, he racked up 21 Bundesliga assists in the treble winning campaign for Bayern.
Other Players That Are Similar
While there is no one as clearly a Raumdeuter as Thomas Muller, other players show certain characteristics that the role is defined by.
Dele Alli, for example, at his best has a few typical characteristics. He plays behind the striker and is known for his exceptional penalty box movement.
Like Muller, he does not have other flashy attributes like pace, dribbling or passing.
But unfortunately for Dele, this unique skill set of his game is something keeping him out of favor with Mourinho.
Jose has not been able to find a consistent position for Dele and has been frustrated by his lack of consistency.
Perhaps he may be better off moving to a club where he is offered more tactical freedom.
Another player with similar attributes is Jose Callejon who may have several attributes of a winger, but can easily be considered a Raumedeuter too.
Like Muller, he also starts from a wide position and drifts inside to find space.
He is not as crafty with the ball as someone like his ex teammates Lorenzo Insigne or Dries Mertens but he relies on the ability to find space to succeed.
Future Prospects of This Role
While the exceptional 19/20 season of Muller showed how important he still is to Bayern, the role itself may find it tough to stay relevant in European football.
In the current era, football clubs like to play in a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3, and most of the attacking impetus either comes from the wings or the deeper midfield players.
There has been an obvious decline in the number 10 position with other players taking the responsibilities a no.10 would take up.
A Raumdeuter is not as pacy as a winger, nor as great a passer as a deep midfielder, so in these more prevalent formations, it is tough to find space for such players.
Ultimately, a Raumdeuter also has to groom parts of his game to fit the mold of different managers.
And while Muller does so due to his exceptional stats and supreme intelligence, others like Dele Alli are finding it tough.
In medicine, there is something known as the diagnosis of exclusion. Something last on the list of probablities when the findings do not fit any other mould or definition.
Perhaps a Raumdeuter is a bit like that. If a space interpreter has decent finishing, he would be played as a striker.
If there is abundant pace in their game, playing out wide is almost inevitable.
So finding someone quite average in other departments and being ridiculously good in the space interpretation, is essentially as rare as a diagnosis of exclusion.
So before we go around looking for such players, we must continue to appreciate the brilliance of Thomas Muller for the remainder of his career.