Miroslav Klose — A Genius Like No Other

Miroslav Klose ended his career on a high, winning the World Cup as well as ending as the tournament’s highest ever scorer. Here is a tribute to Germany’s goalscoring maestro.

Kairos – a Greek word that roughly means the fleeting rightness of time and place that create the opportune atmosphere for an action or movement. Miroslav Klose, arguably one of the greatest goal scorers of our generation, sits at the top of the World Cup’s as well as his country’s goalscoring chart solely based on the fact that he recognized and seized kairos better than most goalscorers around.

Surely, comparisons will come up if one breaks the legendary Gerd Müller’s longstanding national goalscoring record or if one breaks Ronaldo’s scoring record in the World Cup. When it comes to technical abilities, Klose did not have the acceleration and short burst of uncontrollable speed of Müller. He never possessed the unparalleled brisance of the Phenomenon. Klose may not even come close to most of the strikers available today if technical ability and individual skills are the parameters. In fact, in recent times Germany itself had a number of natural goal scorers like Völler, Klinsmann, Bierhoff, and Podolski who could have and deserved to come close to breaking Müller’s record, and not Klose, if talent alone sufficed.

Yet, he is there, but how? Simply because Klose evolved as a forward to accommodate the needs of the tactical changes of German football — from the banal football of early 2000 to Klinsmann’s attacking façade or Löw’s possession based football — a happy amalgamation of a target man, a poacher and a defensive forward.

In his younger days, Klose had the finishing, first touch, heading, determination, work rate, jumping and strength to play as a target man. Later on, he became the epitome of a poacher thanks to his finishing, first touch, anticipation, composure, off the ball movement, positioning, agility, balance and pace. Under Löw’s possession-based football, he needed to keep possession as well as win possession back and excelled in a defensive forward’s role thanks to his teamwork, work rate, tackling, stamina and much improved passing. Add to it is his longevity, a gift of being a model professional, and it lead to a more disciplined career than most of his closest competitors.

There is anfractuosity in Klose’s club level career, though — a decent record with Kaiserslautern as a freshman (52 goals in 147 appearances), improved vastly with Werder Bremen (60 goals in 128 appearances) at a time when he matured as a striker. But the improvement curve took a nosedive once he signed for Bayern Munich (53 goals in 149 appearances of which only 24 goals came in 98 league appearances) at a time which should be considered as the belle époque period for a striker.

Surprisingly, Klose’s performance at the fag end of his career in a league hailed as defense-heavy has been solid with Lazio (40 goals in 100 matches of which 35 goals came in 81 league matches). These numbers are not truly awe-inspiring. But 71 international goals in 137 games, how about that for statistics? Let’s keep numbers, arguments and counter-arguments aside and delve into something important — his impact and legacy in German international football. That’s how he will be gauged and celebrated.

Let’s turn the tide and analyze the happenings after the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal debacle and Klinsmann’s retirement. Bierhoff was handed the duty of leading the line. He was accompanied by Carsten Jancker who had a decent spell with Bayern Munich. There was hardly any pipeline of strikers available in the German factory of footballers. The scarcity saw Paulo Rink (first Brazilian to play for Germany) and Ulf Kirsten being included in the team as well. Jancker never prospered for Germany, Rink never scored for the national team and Bierhoff’s performance crumbled as Germany hit a new low, bowing out of Euro 2000 in the group stage, securing only 1 point and finishing last in their group.

Henceforth, the rise and fall of Germany in international football depended directly/indirectly on the performances of Klose. Proof? After the failure of World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000, Germany slumped into an abyss. A nation that once boasted of the likes of Müller, Seeler, Rummenigge, Fischer, Heynckes, Klinsmann, and Völler failed to find forwards who would do the basic thing of putting the ball into the back of the net properly. A 1-5 humiliation to England in Munich in the World Cup 2002 qualifier, qualifying for the tournament through a play-off — German fans could only stare bleakly at the long tunnel ahead with a fading light in Oliver Kahn at the beginning of the tunnel and a bright light, Michael Ballack, in the middle of it.

Where did Klose fit in? Right at the end of this tunnel of melancholia. How did it all start? When Germany failed to find a way to beat not-so-fancied Albania and Greece in the qualifiers, Völler brought on Klose from the bench and in both these games Klose scored the winner, sealing crucial 2-1 and 3-2 victories respectively.

Klose scored back-to-back hattricks in friendlies against Israel and Austria prior to the World Cup, rekindling the belief amidst the fans. He scored 5 goals in 2002 World Cup, winning the Silver Boot in the process. Kahn did brilliantly, and Germany ended up reaching the final despite a dismal four-year spell. Was the worst over already? Not really. Klose’s injury kept him from the starting lineup in Euro 2004, and he could come off the bench only twice. Result? Germany were eliminated once again from the group stage. The only improvement from last time’s outing was that they finished third in the group. Worse news, they couldn’t score a goal even against Latvia. Worst news? Kuranyi, Fredi Bobic, Thomas Brdaric and a young Podolski were not the answer to Germany’s offensive woes. Good news? Klose was there.

Flash ahead to World Cup 2006. Under Klinsmann’s tutelage, in an attacking setup, Klose added 5 more goals to his tally, this time winning the Golden Boot, while Germany earned third place in the competition. The Klose-Podolski partnership gave the Germans a new hope for the future. Podolski even won the Best Young Player award in the tournament. Klose kept his goal-scoring boots on as Germany made amends to the failures of Euro 2000 and 2004 by reaching the final of the 2008 edition. Despite failing to score in the group stage, Klose provided two assists for Podolski, scored two crucial goals in quarterfinal and semifinal of the tournament.

At 32, Klose was a veteran in a young German squad (youngest World Cup squad since 1934) in World Cup 2010. There were Podolski and Mario Gomez but the wily Joachim Löw trusted Klose instead. Result? Klose scored 4 goals in the tournament, Germany again reached the semifinal but ended up winning only the third place. Having equaled Müller’s tally of 14 goals and only one behind Ronaldo’s record, the world at large expected Klose to equal/break the World Cup record in the third place play-off tie against Uruguay. Löw did not field Klose in that game, and despite all the melodrama, Klose respected Löw’s decision of not fielding him — professionalism at its highest level.

Klose probably had his sights on the World Cup record despite the third place playoff snub. He knew there’s no way he was getting younger, and Mario Gomez was having a ball at Bayern. There’s only one way to play at the highest level: by performing at the highest level. He accepted a transfer to Lazio and tested his mettle in one of the toughest leagues to score goals. But he kept scoring. Löw could not ignore the old warhorse. He knew Gomez would be starting in Euro 2012 ahead of him, but he gave his best shot throughout the qualifier so that Löw would have no ground to snub the 34 year old. In 6 qualifying games, Klose scored 9 times, provided two assists, scored at least once against each and every opponent in their group. Only Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had a better record during the qualifiers across Europe.

As expected, Gomez started for the Germans and did well. But when it mattered more, like doing a lot of running and putting pressure on opposition defensive players against Greece in the quarterfinals — Löw turned to his old warhorse, and Klose did not disappoint. He scored the third goal to give Germany an unassailable lead, a game they later won 4-2. But unfortunately, Germany fell short in yet another international tournament despite a strong foundation and consistent top performances.

Enter World Cup 2014. Mario Gomez was excluded as he missed a crucial part of the season through injury. Podolski was no longer a goalscoring option. Volland and Lasogga were too raw to be tested at the highest rostrum. So, who was there as an out-and-out forward? A 36-year-old Super Miro. Did he deliver? He saved Germany blushes after coming off the bench in a tight game against Ghana by equalizing within minutes of his inclusion. An important goal, as he equaled Ronaldo’s record tally. That was not enough. He scored the second goal against Brazil in the semifinal, a goal after which Brazil totally lost the plot and committed hara-kiri. Klose eclipsed Ronaldo’s record in Ronaldo’s country against Ronaldo’s countrymen.

But the modest footballer was professional even when he talked about Ronaldo’s congratulatory message: “Before he sent a message out ‘Klose – welcome in the club of 15′. I can now send out this message: ‘Miroslav Klose in the club of 16 and everyone’s welcome to join’.”

Klose can only score with his head, they said, in 2002. He scored 4 of his 5 goals with his foot in 2006, they never said. He never scored from outside the box, they said. A poacher generally doesn’t need to, they never said. He can’t dribble past n number of opponents, he can’t showboat, he can’t do a Rabona flick and he can’t do this and do that. Maybe, yes. But he can do simple things right without any fuss, like putting the ball into the back of the net. How about that for talent?

In his four World Cup expeditions, Germany have reached the semifinal every single time, an all-time World Cup record of reaching consecutive semifinals. Germany never lost a World Cup match in which Klose has scored. He has won the runner-up medal once and third-place medal twice. Finally, a winners’ medal in his last outing in the World Cup was a sight that can only be described by the Filipino word kilig. Not as gifted as the best of the game, but sheer appetence, adaptability to changing tactics, consistency at the highest level and hard work are the totems of Klose’s zen. And Klose? Totem of Germany’s rakuen. Goodbye and good luck, Champion!

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