The ball was driven into the packed box at pace. Thomas Müller performed a quick backheel, catching out the Brazilian defence. The football landed at the feet of Miroslav Klose, whose first-time shot was parried away by former Champions League-winning goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The save was impressive at close range, but this rappelled into the feet of the onrushing German striker. Klose pounced, sticking the ball into the net to further deflate the home crowd. It was 2-0 to Germany.
The occasion: A World Cup semi-final. The game: Brazil 1-7 Germany. The significance: A World Cup record broken. Klose’s goal was his 16th in the FIFA World Cup, moving him one ahead of the great Ronaldo, who had held the record since 2006. This was Klose in a nutshell, though. The goal was unspectacular, the occasion somewhat swept under the rug by the monumental win, but the timing… impeccable.
Ever since he scored against Argentina in 2010 to take his personal tally to 14, the questions were raised. Could he make another tournament? Would he be on penalties to sneak the record from the spot? The Polish-born German striker was certainly in the heyday of his career, but his race was not run. He scored two goals in Brazil 2014 and neither were ‘an easy penalty’, if such a thing even exists. They were peak Klose. A well-timed header from a corner, and the aforementioned six-yard stab against Brazil.
This record-breaking goal was followed a few days later by the lifting of the World Cup, the pinnacle of a truly fascinating career. It is perhaps a leap to say so, but many would suggest that Klose is more known for his goalscoring on the international scene than his club efforts. This is not to say that he was not prolific for club, quite the opposite, but rather that he never quite gained the top-level appreciation that he should have done. Compare this to his international reputation and the conversation is drastically different.
A cursory look at his clubs shows a mix of fortunes. He flip-flopped between professional and reserve team at FC 08 Homburg before signing for FC Kaiserslautern. He played reserve football for them over a couple of years and racked up a record of 26 goals in 50 games. A record like this could not be ignored and he was handed his debut for the senior team by Andreas Brehme in April 2000.
He impressed coach Brehme and became pivotal over the coming years for Die roten Teufel. Eleven goals in 45 appearances followed in 2000/01, his first full professional season. This included nine league goals, cementing his position as joint-top scorer on the year. This was good, but it was the following season that truly saw Klose excel. He finished the season with 16 goals in 31 league games, averaging over a goal every other game and only two shy of becoming the league’s top scorer.
This form could not go unnoticed by the international decision-makers. In January 2001, Klose was approached by Poland’s head coach, Jerzy Engel, to try and convince him to play for the country of his birth. Klose appreciated the gesture but had his eyes on a bigger prise. “I have a German passport, and if things are still running this way, I have a chance to play for Rudi Völler”. This was evidently a tricky decision for Miroslav, but a vindicated one.
Two months later, in March 2001, Klose was given his international debut for Germany. It was a World Cup qualifier against Albania in Leverkusen. Albania, despite their low football stature, were in good form and were holding Germany to a 1-1 draw. Rudi Völler threw Klose into the game with nearly 20 minutes to go, and in the 87th minute, Klose pounced. It was a diving header at the back post, and was celebrated by an exuberant frontflip, something that would become a trademark celebration for the centre-forward.
As Klose continued to bang in the goals for FC Kaiserslautern, he found himself getting more and more game time internationally. Still in his early 20s, he was having to settle for game-time off the bench, although he was making inroads. He scored in his next competitive game against Greece, proving to Völler that he truly was the real deal. This was his last qualification goal, though his league form ensured that his placed was booked on the plane to Korea/Japan for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
His form was enough to make sure he went to the tournament, but his efforts in the 2002 friendly matches all but guaranteed him a place in the starting XI. In February he scored a hat-trick in a 7-1 victory over Israel. This treble was replicated against Austria in June. Scoring three in friendly games was impressive, but the best was yet to come.
Germany inflicted the third-heaviest defeat of Men’s World Cup history by putting eight unanswered goals past a hapless Saudi Arabian side. This was a ludicrous win for a World Cup match, and Klose left his mark. Once again, he put three goals – all headers – into the back of the net. His timing was spectacular, and his first goal was arguably the pick of the bunch, not due to the excellence of it, but more due to the focus taken to account for the catalogue of errors from everyone to allow the ball to fall anywhere near him.
Klose kept his scoring form going in the following match, once again using his head to put the Germans ahead. A long ball from Michael Ballack rendered the Irish defence moot, with Klose judging the pace and spin of the ball perfectly to head past Shay Given. The Irish did find an equaliser deep into stoppage time to put a blip in the German’s progress.
In their final group match, Klose notched his fifth goal of the tournament, and his fifth header of the World Cup. It is important to note too that Klose is six foot tall and of relatively slight build. He is tall, but not excessively so, and is not exactly a ‘battering-ram’ type striker. He scored a high number of headers, but this was based upon his darting runs and phenomenal timing. He ground defenders down with his sharp movement then made sure he was in the right place at the right time.
Germany went all the way to the World Cup final that year, winning their next three games against Paraguay, America and South Korea all by a scoreline of one goal to nil. They then lost the final 2-0, falling to a Ronaldo masterclass. Klose did not find the net again in this tournament, though for a young striker to walk away with five goals – tied for second-most with Rivaldo, Ronaldo taking top spot, is still an impressive feat.
A dip in form and a knee injury saw Klose’s next two seasons finish with relatively mediocre stats, 13 goals in 36 appearances in 2002/03 and 12 in 29 the following year. This resulted in him receiving very little football at Euro 2004, only coming off the bench twice as the Germans crashed out in the group stages, behind the Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
FC Kaiserslautern were suffering. Financial irregularities were plaguing the team and just a few seasons after their UEFA Cup run, bankruptcy loomed over them. A change of ownership occurred to stem the flow, but the team needed money and they cashed in on their international hitman. A €5 million fee was struck with Werder Bremen and the next chapter of his career was about to begin.
His three-year spell at Werder Bremen, and the 2006 World Cup that fell in this period, marked the most prolific period of Klose’s career. In 132 matches for Bremen, Klose netted 63 times. The peak of this spell occurred in 2005/06, when he finished the season with 31 total goals in 40 games, and a staggering 25 in 26 league games as his team finished second in the league, just five points behind Bayern Munich.
The striker kicked off his 2006 campaign with a brace against a feisty Costa Rica side. His first goal, to make the game 2-1 in the first half, saw him stab the ball into an empty net following a shot-cum-cross by Lukas Podolski. The second goal saw him try an audacious header from about 10 yards out. This bouncing effort was saved by the goalkeeper, though he could only palm this in front of him to allow Klose to stab home his seventh World Cup goal.
The Poland game was a drab affair for Klose, but the final group game saw Germany cruise to a 3-0 victory, topping the pool and their star striker bagging a brace to take his tally up to nine for the tournament. His first was a penalty box bullet, while his second had vibes of vintage Ronaldo, as he controlled a chipped past and rounded the ‘keeper to fire the Germans to victory.
He scored his 10th goal, and final goal of the 2006 World Cup, in a fiery quarter-final tie against Argentina. This goal was dramatic late equaliser, nodding in a flicked-on header and forcing the game into extra-time.
The player was one of the first names on the teamsheet for Germany, and his goalscoring prowess for the national side, coupled with his breath-taking club form for Bremen culminated in the inevitable…. a transfer to Bayern Munich. Klose played one more season at Werder Bremen after the 2006 World Cup, but in the summer of 2007 he made it clear to the club hierarchy that he wanted a move.
Despite his high stock, his forcing of this move, mixed with some injury issues, meant that the German giants could sign him for the relatively cheap price of just £13.5 million. To put context on how low this was, that same summer Liverpool signed Ryan Babel for £11.5 million, Everton signed Yakubu for £11.25 million and Tottenham Hotspur signed Darren Bent for £16 million.
The outlay was certainly less than Klose was worth, however it was hard to say who did worse out of the deal. His spell in Bavaria was not exactly a flop, but given his scoring rate for Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen, this should have been his opportunity to become a once-in-a-generation talent.
His first two seasons were okay, though fell below his usual prolific standards. 21 goals in 2007/08 and 20 the year after (47 and 38-game campaigns) hurt his career goal-to-game ratio, however he was playing more games against teams primarily set up to sit deep and defend, with a team of players all desperate to score; he was no longer the focal point of the team. The first two seasons brought about a league and cup double in 2008. In the summer of 2009, everything changed.
Dutch coach Louis van Gaal came in and it became clear that he was not a fan of Klose, or his strike partner Luca Toni. While Toni lasted only six months into the Van Gaal regime, Klose stuck it out for two years, desperately trying to become Bayern’s main man again, to no avail. The team won the league in 2010 and made it all the way to the Champions League final, but the games became few and far between and the goals dried up.
While his Bayern Munich spell was hardly glittering, there was one real saving grace for Klose. The prolific international striker managed 22 goals for his national team during his spell at Bayern, in little over 40 games. A quite stunning record when you consider that this actually spanned two international tournaments. Klose added two goals to his international account at Euro 2008 as Germany progressed to the final, losing to Spain. Another successful international campaign that ended in heartbreak.
He kicked off the 2010 World Cup campaign with a trademark header against Australia, nodding in a Philip Lahm cross to put Germany two up in their 4-0 win. Klose was sent off for two yellow cards in the first half of their second game against Serbia – an unusual instance for a remarkably rule-abiding player – meaning that he missed this game and their final group tie against Ghana.
A sumptuous round of 16 game against England awaited the Germans, who punished the Three Lions 4-1. Klose opened the scoring, latching on to a long ball from Manuel Neuer that skipped beyond the entire England team.
After his goal against England, he met Argentina in the quarter-finals. The first was a tap in from about a yard out, courtesy of Podolski, who’s tireless running and commitment in 2006 and 2010 helped out Klose and the team in incredible amount. Klose closed his 2010 account with a well-timed volley to sink the Argentinians.
Spain defeated Germany 1-0, as they did in the Euro 2008 final – this time though the defeat occurred in the semi-final, in Durban. He was 32 at this stage and evidently out of favour at Bayern Munich. He finished the tournament with four goals, a total of 14 all-time World Cup goals, one short of Ronaldo. While Klose’s game was hardly based on speed and hard running, few would have expected the forward to still be playing international football in 2014.
As was always the case throughout Klose’s career, he was doubted, and he defied expectations. He experienced a late-career renaissance in Italy, leaving Southern Germany for Rome, joining Lazio on a three-year deal. This should have been an easy-out for Klose. See out his deal in a traditionally slower-paced league and bow out from there. Klose rarely took the easy option in life. He played and he scored, and he earned himself an extension, playing on until 2016.
This spell was perhaps not quite as explosive as his stints with Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen, but 63 goals in 170 games in Serie A and European competition isn’t bad for a player in his 30s. He helped them secure European football and win a Coppa Italia as well as finishing as their top scorer in three seasons.
He was brought to Poland-Ukraine by Joachim Löw, though he was very much a bench option for the bulk of the tournament, playing second fiddle to Mario Gómez, the man who went on to take Klose’s spot in the starting XI at Bayern Munich. Due to this substitute action, Klose only managed one goal, a dainty header from a corner against Greece in the knockout rounds.
Many questioned whether he was worth taking to the 2014 World Cup, but after over a decade’s service to the national team, Löw stuck with his experienced hitman. The groups saw a fairly limited amount of playing time for Klose. Die Mannschaft rotated between Özil and Müller as false 9s in a 4-5-1 formation, with Klose not playing a minute in the opening game, a 4-0 thrashing of Portugal. He found himself playing off the bench in the other two group matches, scoring from a yard out against Ghana. This was monumental. This was Klose’s 15th World Cup goal, equalising the record set by Ronaldo in 2006. This 15th goal by Ronaldo was also scored against Ghana, coincidently.
The striker didn’t see a second of action against Algeria in the round of 16 tie, although did receive over an hour against France in the quarter-finals. This takes us to the start of our story, the 7-1 victory. Four World Cups, 24 games, 22 starts and 15 goals in a remarkable haul for one of the tournaments elite players.
The case of Klose is complex; some believe he has overachieved in his career, a glorified poacher whose status is inflated because of some goals against primarily weak World Cup opposition. Others believe he underachieved, a wonderous striker who was hampered by injuries, poor club choice and the wrath of Louis van Gaal. The truth, he is probably in the middle.
Yes, the bulk of his World Cup goals came against weaker teams, but then so were the goals scored by Ronaldo, and Gerd Müller before him. It is the nature of the World Cup. Klose had a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo bagged a brace against Costa Rica and Müller got three against Bulgaria and Peru. This does not detract from their reputations at all.
The problem with Klose is that he did not perform particularly well for Bayern Munich, though there are a plethora of reasons to justify this poor spell, not least the strained relationship he held with Louis van Gaal. Rather than jump ship at the earliest opportunity though, he fought for his spot in Bavaria, showing the sort of determination of character that saw the player excel in Germany and Italy for nearly two decades.
Whether you think of Klose from his Bundesliga years, his Italian swansong or his international career, a career which finally saw him, and Germany, get the hoodoo off their back by winning the FIFA World Cup, if you watched him play then he almost certainly brought you joy. He was an old-fashioned striker. He wasn’t a false 9, he wasn’t a target man or found hovering towards the wings. He belonged in the box. He put the ball in the net, and when he had a clear shot at goal, he almost certainly had a goal. His frontflip celebrations and knee slides are iconic and if you’re a World Cup fanatic like me then when you think of the World Cup, the imagine of Klose reeling off in celebration comes to mind.