Analysing goalscorers is, on the face of it, a straightforward science. If they score, they’re great; if they don’t score, they aren’t. Yet, in practice the reputations of players don’t always reflect their abilities. We only have to look at Mario Balotelli, a player who has undoubted talent but a pretty average goals to games ratio for an out-and-out striker, to realise that the personality of a player can often affect how highly they are regarded.
That brings us, then, to recently retired goalscoring legend, Miroslav Klose. Klose is the type of player whose name will always be met with sage nods and reflections on his abilities, but who often escapes mention during discussions about the greatest marksmen of recent times. Perhaps this is how the man himself would like it, but his amazing record, particularly on the biggest stage in the German white, demands otherwise.
Was it simply that Klose was just too mild-mannered to turn the head of the average football fan? Just Google the striker’s name and see how many times you see the word ‘humble’ on the first couple of pages; if you didn’t know better, you’d think you had searched the Dalai Lama.
A theory is that Klose is so reticent because of his upbringing. Miroslav fled communist Poland with his family as a child, briefly settling in France before arriving in Germany, and grew to be shy at school due to language difficulties. Miroslav grew up a keen footballer but didn’t expect to become professional and was working as a carpenter at the age of 19. Sort of like a German Jamie Vardy. If not for the whole mild-mannered thing.
At the age of 21, he finally made it to Kaiserslauten. 44 goals in 122 games there drew the attention of Werder Bremen. More importantly though, it was during this time at Kaiserslauten that Klose rose to international fame, rejecting an approach by his native Poland to play for Rudi Voller’s Germany.
In 2002, the forward became a household name around the world after a hat-trick of headers against Saudi Arabia. In that game, Klose won the hearts of children globally thanks to his acrobatic celebration, an act so out of place with his character and playing style that it felt a little like Ed Miliband being caught up in a sex scandal.
Germany didn’t win that tournament, but Klose went on to score another two goals. In 2006 and 2010, he continued the heroics with another nine goals, as Germany repeatedly came close to winning a trophy they had – unusually, considering their footballing brilliance – failed to win since 1990.
With Germans feeling like an obese child who hasn’t eaten a cake in a couple of days, and Klose entering what the ageing process demanded be his last World Cup, Germany finally lifted The Jules Rimet in 2014. Klose’s post-match interview was typical of the man – wearing a look that hovered somewhere between overwhelmed and confused.
This remarkable international career, which ended with Klose top of the all-time World Cup goalscoring chart and a record of 71 goals in 137 games, is undoubtedly Klose’s pièce de résistance, but his club career should not be ignored.
Success with Kaiserslauten was followed up by a brilliant three-year stint at Werder Bremen, and four seasons with Bayern where he won the Bundesliga twice and reached the Champions League final.
At the age of 33, Klose then proved his adaptability by moving to Lazio and impressing in the Italian capital. Perhaps his finest and most memorable moment for Gli Aquilotti came when the ageing superstar used his hand during a goal against Napoli, proceeding to tell the referee about the infraction. The pair shook hands and the goal was disallowed, Klose commenting after the game in his uncomplicated manner.
“The referee asked me if I had touched the ball with my hand and it was not a problem for me to answer ‘yes’. There are many youngsters who watch football on TV and we are role models for them.”
Finally, at the ripe old age of 38 and following protracted talks about what would’ve been a nature-defying contract extension with Lazio, Miroslav Klose has decided to retire. This won’t be the end of his involvement in football, of course; Jogi Loew is giving him his first sniff of coaching as part of the national set-up he excelled in.
He might not be the most extroverted or beguiling character around, but that is what we love about Miroslav: Honest, hardworking and self-effacing. And bloody well talented. We hope we see those backflips from a fifty-something Germany coach in World Cups of the future.