Thomas Muller a rising talent for Germany

Bayern Munich star Thomas Muller is being touted as the heir apparent to German national team captain Michael Ballack.

But it's not a given that the Bayern Munich star will be on the plane to South Africa

Bayern Munich Thomas Muller has yet to make an appearance for the German national team. ((JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images))

He's being touted as the heir apparent to German national team captain Michael Ballack.

Thomas Muller is only 20, but the talented playmaker exhibits all the poise and maturity of a 10-year-veteran, winning plaudits for his polished performances since making his debut for Bavarian bigwigs Bayern Munich last year.

After making only sporadic appearances during the 2008-09 Bundesliga (German first division) season, Muller has established himself as a semi-regular starter for Bayern during the current campaign, although manager Louis van Gaal has still limited his playing time.

Muller, who can play either as a creative midfielder, winger or forward, has made the most of his opportunities.

On Sept. 12, he came on as a substitute and scored two goals in a 5-1 win over bitter league rivals Borussia Dortmund. Three days later, he scored another pair in Bayern's 3-0 victory over Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa in the UEFA Champions League.

A product of Bayern's youth academy, Muller is the talk of the Bundesliga, a fact underlined by his being voted player of the month for September in Kicker, Germany's leading sports magazine. He was also called up for last month's friendly between Germany and the Ivory Coast, but didn't get a chance to make his national team debut - the game was cancelled following the suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke on Nov. 10.

Too young for it all?

Still, many feel it's only a matter of time before Muller graduates from Germany's Under-21 side and earns his first cap for his country's senior team, en route to being named to the German roster for the 2010 World Cup.

But national team coach Joachim Low, the man whose opinion matters the most, has been hesitant to commit himself when pressed by the media on whether Muller will be on the plane to South Africa next year.

"I think the main reason why Muller [isn't guaranteed a spot on the World Cup roster] is because Low doesn't want to be seen as someone who picks someone on the strength of half a dozen games," Raphael Honigstein, a soccer journalist for German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, told

"He's only played [a handful] games for Bayern in the Bundesliga this season, and I think it would be interpreted as rash."

Another potential red flag for Low is Muller's perceived lack of discipline. The Bayern playmaker was expelled after earning two yellow cards within the opening 30 minutes of a Champions League match against French champions Bordeaux last month.

There are other forces working against Muller making the trip to South Africa, not the least of which is Bayern being less than thrilled that that their influential midfielder is already being eyed by the national team while he is still developing.

"Bayern is not happy that after only a few games Muller is being hyped up and being talked up as a future German international," Honigstein explained. "Bayern worries that Muller is going to lose his head, so they weren't exactly excited that Low picked him for that Ivory Coast friendly after only a few Bundesliga appearances."

Still, Bayern may have to deal with the fact their young, budding super star will be competing in his first World Cup before he even celebrates his 21st birthday.

"I think in the long run if he can see regular action for Bayern this season and continues to play at a high level, he'll certainly be in the German squad for next year's World Cup," Honigstein said.