Have we seen the last of the great German centre-forward?

The recent ongoing debate over the concept the of the strikerless “False Nine” and Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw’s decision not to play a regular centre-forward in Germany’s more recent matches has prompted many to think that the era of the traditional Stürmer – the predator, the poacher, the six-yard area finisher – is about to witness its last days.

In the days leading up to Germany’s World Cup qualification double-header in March 2013 against Kazakhstan, both Miroslav Klose and Mario Gómez would withdraw from the squad through injury – leading many to assume that the vacancy would be filled by the in-form Bayer 04 Leverkusen front-man Stefan Kießling. Löw however chose not to nominate a replacement, playing both games without an established striker. It was a decision that would, for many commentators and analysts, prove to be a watershed in the history of the Nationalmannschaft.

To put things in perspective, in over a century no German national team had ever started without at least one established centre-forward.

Is it the end for the old-fashioned number nine?
Is it the end for the old-fashioned number nine?

Germany has always had a leading front man, and current incumbents Klose and Gómez have carried on what has been a long and great tradition. Before the Second World War this role had been filled by the likes of Edmund Conen, Richard Hofmann – who would score a famous hat-trick against England in 1930 – and Otto Siffling, though it was during the modern postwar era where the idea of the “specialist” centre-forward really took off.

When one thinks about great German goalscorers going back in time, the names just roll off the tongue. Miroslav Klose. Oliver Bierhoff. Jürgen Klinsmann. Rudi Völler. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Klaus Fischer. Gerd Müller. Uwe Seeler. Then, the first great goalscorer of the postwar era, Fritz Walter. Players who would through their goalscoring exploits find a place in the Nationalmannschaft’s long and rich history.

The King of Kaiserslautern: Fritz Walter

The man who would set the gold standard for the great German front man was Kaiserslautern-born Friedrich “Fritz” Walter, a player who would become a legend both in the red of his home town team and the black and white of the Nationalmannschaft. In a career that was interrupted by the Second World War, Walter scored a staggering 380 goals in 411 matches over twenty-two years for Die roten Teufel. For the national team, he was almost as prolific, with thirty-three strikes in sixty-one matches – a return of 0.54 goals per game.

One of three brothers who all played for 1. FCK, Walter played his first club match at the age of seventeen, and as a twenty year old he would wear the national colours for the first time against Romania on 14th July 1940. He would make an immediate impact with a stunning hat-trick, but had to postpone his international career as the war started to turn against Germany. Like many others, Walter was drafted into the armed services, and was taken prisoner by the Soviets – ending up at a POW camp in Máramarossziget on the Hungarian-Romanian border.

With thousands of German servicemen being transported to the Siberian Gulag, both Walter and his younger brother Ludwig would have joined them – were it not for an intercession by a Hungarian guard and fellow footballer who had recognised the young German striker during a guards versus prisoners kick-around. This fortunate turn of events resulted in Fritz and Ludwig Walter being allowed to go back home to Germany.

Having returned back home in 1945, Walter threw all his energy into club football. Germany was still banned from international competition at this time, and he played the role of both player and coach at his beloved 1. FCK. Despite being sought after by a number of leading clubs such as Racing Club of Paris and Italian giants Internazionale, Walter chose to remain loyal to his roots and remain at the Betzenberg.

In late 1950 Germany was finally welcomed back into the world footballing family, and the following year Fritz Walter was reintegrated into the national team by coach Sepp Herberger, joining youngest brother Ottmar who had made his international debut in the Mannschaft’s first match of the postwar era. Together the two Walter brothers were part of the reformed West German team that would qualify for the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland, and at the age of thirty-three Fritz would skipper the side to their first world title in what was dubbed Der Wunder von Bern – the “Miracle of Berne”.

Walter would not find the target in the victory over the great Hungarian side in the final, but more than play his part in West Germany’s tournament success. He netted three goals, including a brace of penalties in the 6-1 semi-final victory over neighbours and erstwhile rivals Austria. On account of his contracting malaria during his time in the POW camps, he had never played well in warm weather. The rain that fell on that historic day in Berne – conditions that suited the German skipper perfectly – would forever be known as Fritz-Walter-Wetter or “Fritz Walter weather”.

Fritz Walter’s life would have a significantly Magyar flavour to it: it had been a Hungarian who had saved him from what for many was ten years or even death in the Soviet labour camp system, and it would be the Hungarians over whom he would have his greatest footballing triumph. In a further twist of fate, Walter would have the opportunity to pay something back. Following the national uprising in Hungary and subsequent Soviet invasion in 1956, Walter had assisted members of the Hungarian team found themselves in need of help.

After what had been close to a two year break from international football, the thirty-seven year old Walter was recalled by Herberger for the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. He wouldn’t get on the score sheet. His last game was the semi-final against the hosts, a controversial match in Göteborg’s Ullevi Stadium that would see the Germans lose 3-1. Battered and bruised by the brutal tactics employed by the Swedes, Walter was quite literally walking wounded for the latter part of the second half.

Walter would play for one more season for Kaiserslautern, retiring at the end of the 1958/59 season at the age of thirty-eight. He was held in such high regard that in 1962 he was even asked by Herberger to join the squad for the 1962 World Cup at the age of forty-three – an offer he gracefully refused.

In retirement, Walter would choose to work outside of football. But he would never be far from the game. For many years he was heavily involved in fundraising for numerous charities, including the Sepp-Herberger-Stiftung. In 1985, the stadium on the Betzenberg was named the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in his honour.

Walter, who died in 2002 aged eighty-one, would leave a lasting legacy: in 2005 the medal annually award to young German players was named after him, and the Fritz-Walter-Stiftung (Fritz Walter Foundation) promotes social initiatives through sport – something that the great man would surely have approved of.

That 1958 World Cup semi-final had seen the elder statesman Walter playing alongside the man to whom he would effectively hand over the goalscorer’s baton: a twenty-one year old from Hamburger SV, who was playing just his ninth game in the famous white and black Nationaltrikot.

Unser Uwe

The 5’7″ Uwe Seeler had made his debut as a seventeen year old in October 1954, scoring his first international goal in his fifth match, against Argentina at the 1958 World Cup finals. This kick-started a career that would span seventy-two matches, in which the thinly-haired Hamburger scored a highly impressive forty-three goals at a strike rate of just under 0.6.

Like Fritz Walter, Seeler was a loyal one-club man – devoting his career to HSV. In 476 matches for Die Rothosen, he found the back of the net on a staggering 404 occasions in a career spanning nineteen seasons. Seeler’s career as a one-club man was not without its temptations: in 1960 he was touted as one of the best strikers in Europe, and in 1961 Internazionale – yes, them again – would try to lure him away from the Volksparkstadion with a staggering 1.2 million DM for his services.

Inter’s plans were eventually foiled by Adi Dassler, who persuaded Seeler to remain in Hamburg. In 1964, the striker set a record that would never be broken – that of being top goalscorer in the Bundesliga, Germany’s first professional league. The following year, Seeler suffered a potentially career-ending injury to his Achilles heel, but after months of surgery and care he was back to full fitness – just in time for the 1966 World Cup where he would wear the captain’s armband.

Seeler would represent the Mannschaft in four World Cups – 1958, 1962, 1966 and 1970 – and by quirk of fate would miss out on that coveted winner’s medal by one tournament either side (1954 and 1974). He skippered the side in both 1966 and 1970, and set a number of tournament records, some which still stand today. He was the first man to reach twenty appearances in World Cup finals matches, and the first to score in four separate tournaments. Seeler is the only player to have scored at least two goals in four or more World Cup tournaments – two in 1958, 1962 and 1966 and three in 1970.

Despite his not being the biggest centre-forward around, Seeler was renowned for his aerial ability, with one of his most memorable goals in the Nationaltrikot coming in the famous 1970 World Cup quarter-final against England in León, where he would find the target with an unsighted “back of the head” header that levelled the scores and took the teams into extra time.

The man popularly known as Unser Uwe (“Our Uwe”), or der Dicke (“the short one”) would play his last game for the Mannschaft in September 1970 against Hungary. He continued to play club football for Hamburg until 1972, but that would not be the end of his professional career – not that he would have known it at the time. At the age of forty-one, Seeler made a guest appearance in what he thought was a one-off sponsored match for Irish club side Cork Celtic, only to find out that it was an official League of Ireland fixture. Showing that he had lost none of his form, he scored twice as Cork fell 6-2 to Shamrock Rovers.

Seeler’s decision to close off his international career at the age thirty-three made for a comfortable transition for Nationaltrainer Helmut Schön. By that time, the banner of Germany’s leading striker had already passed to a man who would become the Mannschaft’s greatest-ever goalscorer.

A Müller’s Tale: Der Bomber and Dieter

Nicknamed Der Bomber, the muscular Gerd Müller had made a massive impression in the 1970 tournament in Mexico, ending up as top scorer with ten goals from six matches. Like his team mate Seeler, he was not the tallest centre-forward, but his distinctively squat 5’9″ frame was that of a natural poacher with a low centre of gravity and the unique ability to turn on a Pfennig.

Müller’s early career was with local home town side 1861 Nördlingen, where he scored an impressive fifty-one goals in thirty-one outings – attracting the attention of Bavarian giants FC Bayern München in 1964. Two years later, as an established Bayern player, he made his debut for the Nationalelf, and quickly took his club goal-scoring form into the international arena.

Up until Uwe Seeler’s retirement in late 1970 the two men had played alongside each other, but the baton was handed over in what was Seeler’s final match – the September 1970 match in Nürnberg against Hungary where Müller scored his 28th and 29th international goals in his 26th outing. Now firmly established as West Germany’s first-choice finisher, Müller would take his career to the next level.

In 453 appearances for FC Bayern, Der Bomber found the back of the net 398 times, while for the Mannschaft he maintained his average of more than a goal a game – finishing with an astonishing sixty-eight strikes in sixty-two appearances. His total of 365 Bundesliga goals is unlikely to be surpassed, as is his record of forty league goals for Die Roten in 1971-72.

Müller held a number of other records which would eventually be broken – he was the World Cup’s top goalscorer until 1998 when his record was broken by Brazilian Ronaldo, and he also held the record for the most goals in a calendar year (85 in 1972) until Barcelona’s Lionel Messi set a new standard thirty years later. His record of sixty-six European Cup goals had stood for well over three decades, before being eventually overhauled by Spaniard Raúl.

Der Bomber would win the European Championship with the Nationalmannschaft in 1972 and the European Cup with Bayern in 1974, 1975 and 1976, but his crowning glory was the 1974 World Cup on home soil, where his typically skillful turn and shot clinched the trophy for the Germans on his home ground in Munich. Unfortunately, this was the Der Bomber’s final game in the Nationaltrikot.

Having become disenchanted with the national team setup, he chose the path of early retirement. It was a body blow for German football, more so as there were no tried and tested replacements ready and waiting to take over.

Müller continued to play in the red of FC Bayern until 1979, when he made his way across the Atlantic to the fledgling North American Soccer League (NASL). He played with Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers until 1981, and continued to maintain a decent scoring rate with 38 goals in 71 matches. Despite his success in America, it soon became clear that Müller was out of his comfort zone. His being away from home would soon begin to take its toll off the pitch.

Beset by problems with alcohol, Müller’s life would take a serious dip following his retirement from the game in 1982. He was rescued by the close family network at his former club Bayern and in particular Uli Hoeneß, who did much to help the striker rehabilitate himself. Müller would become, and remains to this day, firmly stitched into the fabric at the Säbenerstraße.

Gerd Müller’s premature retirement in 1974 left a gaping hole in the Mannschaft’s goalscoring armoury. Der Bomber had been so prolific and so integral to the team’s success that nobody could have filled his boots completely: he would remain a very difficult act to follow.

Between 1974 and 1976, finding a replacement was an ongoing struggle. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Jupp Heynckes would have a decent strike rate in the domestic game but had failed to replicate this in the Nationaltrikot (14 goals in 38 games), while numerous others tried but didn’t quite make the grade: Josef Pirrung, Erwin Kostedde, Bernd Nickel and Ronald Worm amongst many. Then there was Schalke 04’s Klaus Fischer, who might have established himself in the national side were if not for his being involved in the infamous bribery scandal that shook the foundations of the German game in 1971.

After almost two years without an established striker, the German team headed off to the 1976 European Championship finals in Yugoslavia as defending champions. In what was an amazing moment of footballing history, another Müller – twenty-two year old 1. FC Köln striker Dieter – would make an immediate impact in what would be his international debut. The fact that Schön was sending on a debutant in a crucial tournament semi-final showed just how bad the striker problem had become.

Coming on for winger Herbert Wimmer as a seventy-ninth minute substitute against the hosts, Germany were 2-1 down. Within a minute, the youngster equalised to take the match into extra time. He then scored two more, wrapping up a debut hat-trick and a 4-2 win for the Mannschaft. The Germans would finish as runners-up after the famous “Panenka” penalty shoot-out, but with another goal in the final Müller looked to have installed himself as the next great German number nine.

Unfortunately it would prove to be a false dawn, as problems with the coach curtailed what might otherwise have been a successful international career for the young Kölner. With 159 goals in 248 appearances for Die Geißböcke, Müller continued to perform at club level, but his not being selected meant that the search would continue.

Müller was recalled into the national squad for the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina and scored his ninth goal in what was his eleventh international against the Netherlands, but the next match against Austria – the infamous Schmach von Córdoba – was the last time he would walk out onto a football pitch in the Nationaltrikot.

Into the 1980s: Between Klaus and Kalle

Klaus Fischer had been initially banned from football for life in 1971 – a sentence that had then been reduced to one year – but despite continuing to score goals in the Bundesliga for Schalke 04 it wouldn’t be until the spring of 1977 when he was fully rehabilitated. It must have irked many in the German footballing establishment to turn to a man long seen as a pariah, but the search for a genuine long-term successor to Gerd Müller had become desperate.

Fischer had scored twenty-nine goals in thirty-four matches in 1975/76, but it was until the latter part of the following season when he finally donned the Nationaltrikot. His selection was justified with two goals on his debut as Germany thrashed Northern Ireland 5-0 in Köln, and this good form continued for the remainder of 1977 as he racked up eleven goals in just nine matches. It may not have pleased some, but it finally looked as though that elusive number nine slot had been filled.

However what had been a phenomenal 1977 for Fischer was followed by a catastrophic 1978, where he would find the back of the net just once in eleven matches. The World Cup campaign was a disaster. Fischer had started all of Germany’s five matches in Argentina, and proved to be a serious disappointment when it really mattered. Once again, the hunt for the real goalscoring deal was back on.

Fortunately for Germany – and Schön’s successor Jupp Derwall – the next goalscoring discovery was already waiting in the wings.

Having made his international debut as a twenty year old in 1976, FC Bayern München’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had scored Germany’s opening goal against Austria, but with a record of only four goals in seventeen matches he wasn’t exactly lining up in the queue to become the next Der Bomber. A fairly ordinary record of fourteen goals in thirty-four Bundesliga matches during the 1978/79 season was not massively encouraging either, but five goals in eight internationals during 1979 kept coach Jupp Derwall interested in the elegant striker – who at 5’11” with his shock of blond curly hair was the polar opposite of the Müller model.

“Kalle” Rummenigge’s stuttering start would help prolong the career of 1978 flop Fischer, who managed to keep his place in the side despite two poor Bundesliga campaigns in 1979/80 and 1980/81. The Schalke striker would repay the coaches’ faith in him with five goals in six matches in 1979, but a broken leg at the tail end of the 1979/80 season saw him miss out on the Mannschaft’s successful Euro 1980 campaign.

The Euro 1980 tournament would see some different names grabbing the headlines. Rummenigge would score the Mannschaft’s winner in their opening match against defending champions Czechoslovakia, but Klaus Allofs – more of an attacking midfielder as opposed to an outright centre-forward – had provided the performance of the championship with a blistering hat-trick against the Netherlands. Fischer’s replacement Horst Hrubesch would provide the final gloss, outshining the much-fêted Rummenigge to write his own chapter in the history books with two goals in the final against Belgium. It was only the burly HSV striker’s fifth match in the Nationaltrikot.

Despite his winning brace in Rome, Hrubesch would only ever play a bit-part role. Following his recovery from injury, Fischer was back in the side – and back amongst the goals. Having moved from Schalke to 1. FC Köln Fischer had managed to find the target just seven times in thirty-one outings during 1981/82, but in the Schwarz und Weiß he would prove to be far more dangerous – scoring nine times during 1981 as the Mannschaft found themselves scoring for fun in what was a perfect eight from eight World Cup qualifying campaign.

Also joining in this fun was Rummenigge, who after his slow start would finally come of age. Germany would score thirty-three goals in their eight qualifying matches, with Fischer and Rummenigge nitting almost half of that total between them. Rummenigge scored nine, and Fischer seven.

Until 1979 Rummenigge might have been destined to be a middle of the road centre-forward, but his career was turned around by the return to Bayern of big-haired midfield dynamo Paul Breitner, who had spent three of four years away from Bavaria in Spain with Real Madrid. The 1979/80 season saw old head Breitner and young tyro Rummenigge strike up a fantastic partnership – dubbed Breitnigge by the German press – that helped propel Die Roten to the Bundesliga title in 1980, their first in five seasons.

From that point on, Rummenigge never looked back. Twenty-six goals in thirty-four matches in for Bayern in 1978/80 was upped to twenty-nine in thirty-four the following season, and by 1981 he was scoring goals almost at will in the Nationaltrikot as well. In 1980 and 1981, the photogenic striker was named European Footballer of the year.

As the 1982 World Cup finals approached, it looked as though Germany had found not just one but two prolific strikers, with a third in Hrubesch providing more than adequate cover. Unfortunately, things would not go to plan as an unfit Rummenigge and a slightly creaky thirty-two year old Fischer struggled in a campaign that was blighted by controversy on and off the pitch.

Despite being seventy-five percent fit Rummenigge would still score five goals – including a hat-trick against Chile. After having three scoreless games off the bench and stretching his barren run to eight World Cup finals matches, Fischer would finally get off the mark in his ninth game, the second group phase encounter against hosts Spain. Both men would find the back of the net in extra time in what was a breathtaking semi-final against France in Seville: with Germany 3-1 down and looking out for the count, Rummenigge pulled a goal back with a deft close range flick, while Fischer scored a dramatic equaliser with a trademark overhead bicycle kick.

Rummenigge would score Germany’s fourth penalty in the ensuing shootout against the French, and it was seventy-sixth minute substitute Hrubesch – the hero of 1980 – who would once again steal the show right at the end with the winning kick.

Both Rummenigge and Fischer would start the final against Italy in Madrid, but the accumulation of tiredness and injuries would result in their almost complete absence as the Italians swept the Mannschaft aside in what was a convincing 3-1 win. Rummenigge would go on, but Fischer finally decided to call time. His five year international career had seen him score thirty-goals in forty-five matches, at a strike rate of 0.71 goals per game – second only to the great Gerd Müller.

Klaus Fischer continued to play domestically until he was a year shy of his fortieth birthday, moving from Köln to VfL Bochum in 1984 before finally hanging up his boots at the end of the 1987/88 season. In 535 Bundesliga matches spanning seventeen years, he had scored 268 goals.

Rummenigge meanwhile continued to score goals, but spent much of his remaining time as a player who never really regained peak fitness. A disappointing and goalless Euro 1984 campaign was followed by the 1986 World Cup, where he would play the full ninety minutes on just two occasions whilst struggling with injury. He would score in his final appearance – fittingly, in the World Cup Final – but the Mannschaft’s eventual 3-2 defeat at the hands of Argentina meant that Rummenigge, like Uwe Seeler, would close out his international career without a title winner’s medal.

In a Bayern career spanning a decade, Rummenigge had found the back of the net 162 times in 310 matches. In 1984 he moved to Internazionale, where he scored a creditable twenty-four times in sixty-four league and cup appearances despite a succession of injuries. Following his retirement from international football in 1986, Rummenigge moved to the more sedate environs of the Swiss league, where between 1987 and 1989 he scored thirty-four times in fifty matches for FC Servette Geneva.

For the Mannschaft Rummenigge racked up ninety-five appearances, scoring forty-five goals at a rate of 0.47 goals per game. His record is amazing, given that he was struggling with injury for much of the latter part of his career.

Like so many FC Bayern legends, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge returned to Bavaria when he finally hung up his boots, going on to become as good an administrator as he was a player. Hair slightly thinner and greyer, he became one of the club’s vice-presidents in the early 1990s before being named Chairman of the Board in 2002.

The World Cup Final in Mexico City would see the handing over of the striker’s baton once again, though by this time Rummenigge’s replacement as Germany’s number one strike man had already hit the ground running. Rummenigge had scored the Mannschaft’s first goal as they clawed back from the 2-0 deficit against Argentina, and the second would be scored by the man who would carry the striker’s torch into the 1990s.

The 1990s: Rudi, Klinsi… And another Kalle

Having made his national team debut in 1983 just short of his twenty-third birthday, Rudi Völler was already an established goalscorer and natural predator. Thirty-seven goals at a goal per game in the 2. Bundesliga for TSV 1860 München had attracted 1. Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, and a return of twenty-three goals in thirty-one outings in his first top-flight season would in turn lead to a call up the the national side.

Unlike Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who had started his international career slowly before picking up momentum, Völler start as he would finish, with just over a goal every other game. Six goals from nine games in 1983, five from eleven in 1984, four from eight in 1985 and a Der Bomberesque seven from ten in 1986 would elevate the tousle-haired striker into the Mannschaft’s best marksman, surpassing Rummenigge.

Völler would score both of Germany’s goals in the disappointing Euro 1984 campaign that had seen the defending champions eliminated at the first hurdle, but was part of the side that would reach the World Cup Final in Mexico two years later. Unfortunately for Völler, he too was not completely fit. He had found himself on the bench as the tournament reached its climax, but still managed to net three goals including that brave header in the final that had seen the Nationalelf wipe out a two-goal deficit.

Two more goals would follow in the Euro 1988 tournament on German soil, but after a disappointing semi-final exit at the hands of the Netherlands Völler must have thought that, like Rummenigge, he would end up with an empty international trophy cabinet to go with the fine personal record. Fortunately, this would change in Italy two years later.

The World Cup campaign in Italy in 1990 would go like clockwork for the West German team, with an in-form Völler having a mixed experience with three first phase goals and an unfortunate red card in the second phase against the Netherlands, before winning the penalty that secured a third world crown for Franz Beckenbauer’s side. Unlike four years earlier where Germany’s front line had been staffed by an unfit Völler and Rummenigge, the tournament in Italy would see a fit Völler find his perfect foil in the form of another young striker.

Völler would break his arm in a freak accident during the first match of Germany’s Euro 1992 campaign against the CIS, and would call time on his international career after the World Cup in the United States in 1994. His last match in the Nationaltrikot was in the second phase match against Belgium, where the thirty-four year old rolled back the years with two well-taken goals, taking his tally to an impressive forty-seven strikes in ninety matches – a rate of 0.52 goals per game.

Following six successful seasons in Bremen where he had scored 97 times in 137 matches, Völler followed a number of his compatriots to the Italian Serie A, where he would find the back of the net 45 times in 142 matches over five seasons. A move to France with Olympique Marseille followed (28 goals in 73 games) before he returned back home to Germany to join Bayer 04 Leverkusen (26 in 62).

With a career record of 258 goals in 557 games, Völler would remain at Leverkusen in an administrative and coaching capacity, before being called up to the post of Nationaltrainer in 2000. Initially a temporary post, Völler would take the Mannschaft through to the World Cup Final in 2002, falling at the last hurdle in his attempt to become the second German to both play in and coach a World Cup winning team. The hair is a lot greyer but still curly, and the man popularly known as Tante Käthe is now back in Leverkusen as Director of Sport.

Völler’s strike partner in 1990 was the gazelle-like Jürgen Klinsmann, whose pace and energy had seen his being called up the the national side in 1987 at the age of twenty-three. Curiously, Klinsmann’s development as a goalscorer would mirror that of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: after a slow start with just four goals in his first eighteen appearances, the tournament in Italy energised his career. Like Völler, the man popularly known as the “Blond Bomber” would hit the target on three occasions.

Having started off his professional career with local side Stuttgarter Kickers in the 2. Bundesliga, Klinsmann signed for bigger city rivals VfB in 1984 at the age of twenty, quickly becoming a key component of side with a record of just over a goal every two games. By the time of the 1990 World Cup, Klinsmann was playing in Italy for Internazionale, alongside fellow Germans Lothar Matthäus and Andreas Brehme. He would score thirty-four goals in ninety-five appearances, a perfectly acceptable record in a league where goals were notoriously hard to come by.

Klinsmann’s goalscoring record for the Nationalmannschaft meanwhile was solid rather than spectacular, but as the perfect foil for the prolific Völler he remained a fixture in the side. After the 1992 European Championship finals where the recently reunified – and Völlerless – German team would finish runners-up to surprise team Denmark, Klinsmann’s record read at forty-one games played, with ten goals. What would have escaped nobody’s notice was that while Klinsmann may not have been the most prolific goalscorer, half of his ten strikes had come in major tournaments: one at both the Euro 1988 and Euro 1992, and three at Italia ’90.

A decent return of six goals from ten games in 1993 saw Klinsmann up his average, but it would in 1994 where things really took off – coinciding with the last hurrah from the thirty-four year old Völler. The World Cup campaign in the United States saw Klinsmann score five goals to end up as the tournament’s second-highest scorer, and thereafter his goalscoring rate accelerated rapidly. A return of eleven goals in fourteen matches would make 1994 the most successful of Klinsmann’s career.

Ever the globetrotter, Klinsmann’s spell in Italy was followed by a move to France with AS Monaco, and after that one memorable season in England’s Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur. A thoughtful, urbane and intelligent man who would impress many both on and off the pitch, Klinsmann would quickly turn around the reputation he had acquired in England. Playing on his being labelled a “diver” by the English media, he chose to counter this with his own unique comedy celebration. In just one year, Klinsmann had surpassed tennis player Boris Becker to become England’s favourite German.

After his short spell at White Hart Lane Klinsmann headed back home to FC Bayern München, where he set a new goalscoring record – surpassing Ipswich Town’s John Wark – as the Münch’ner stormed to glory in the UEFA Cup. A couple of months later, he returned to England as skipper of the German team for the 1996 European Championship finals.

Ever the tournament goalscorer, “Klinsi” would add three more goals to his major tournament tally – now sitting at thirteen from twenty-five tournament matches – a he led the side to an unprecedented third European title. This became seventeen from thirty in France in 1998, as he racked up four more goals only for the Mannschaft to fall short in the last eight at the hands of Croatia.

The failure in France would see the thirty-four year old Klinsmann finally hang up his international boots. After a short spell back in Italy with Sampdoria and a swansong loan period back at Spurs, Klinsmann finally called time on his playing career. Just six years later he would follow erstwhile strike partner Rudi Völler as Nationaltrainer, guiding a revived German side to a third place finish at the World Cup in 2006. A dismal spell as coach of Bayern München then followed, but after a two year break Germany’s most famous footballing traveller would take on the job as coach of the United States national team.

After what had been a dreadfully slow start, Klinsmann would finish with a goalscoring record of forty-seven goals in 108 internationals, taking him into joint second place in the all-time list alongside Völler with a goals per game return of 0.43.

The 1990s would see the best of the traditional German centre-forward, with Völler lining up alongside Klinsmann and Karlheinz Riedle, a striker more in the Gerd Müller mould who was deadly in the air. In what would be a rich period for the German centre forward, Riedle – a player who could have walked into many rival international sides – would get few opportunities to show his class, but when he did get his chance he never failed to impress.

Riedle’s overall record doesn’t really provide much in the way of information, mainly as he had been subbed either in or out in more than half of games he played in the Nationaltrikot. He would finish with a record of sixteen goals from forty two matches, a number of these coming in major tournaments. Riedle’s most memorable tournament was at Euro 1992 in Sweden, where he would end up as Germany’s top scorer with three goals in five matches as he filled in for the injured Völler.

“Kalle” Riedle would make his name at home with Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund and overseas with SS Lazio, Liverpool and Fulham, and were it not for the Völler-Klinsmann partnership might very easily have become one the “great” strikers in the history of the German national team.

That Jürgen Klinsmann was able to receive the European Championship trophy at all was down to one man, a striker who would eventually follow Klinsmann as Germany’s premier striker and national team captain. A man who not even a year before the tournament would be little known in Germany on account of having played most of his football outside the Bundesliga. A man who would be added to the squad, so the story goes, only because Berti Vogts’ wife told her husband to take him along.

The man with the Golden Goal: Oliver Bierhoff

Oliver Bierhoff would begin his career at Bayer 05 Uerdingen in 1986 as a teenager, and after a rather unimpressive two years had moved up north to Hamburg, where he was equally umpressive. In four years, Bierhoff had played sixty-five games and netted a total of only ten goals, and after a barren eight-game spell at Borussia Mönchengladbach he decided that German football was perhaps not his thing after all. At the age of twenty-two the tall striker moved across the border to Austria Salzburg, where a far more productive season was followed by a jump over yet another border into Italy and Ascoli Calcio 1898.

Despite the team being recently relegated to Serie B, Bierhoff would stay with Ascoli for four seasons, scoring at just under a goal every other game. The German striker was clearly happy with his lot and was not chasing the glamourous clubs, but when Ascoli were relegated to third third tier in 1995 it was a step down too far. A move to newly-promoted Serie A side Udinese Calcio followed, and it was there where Bierhoff would really flourish.

With Udinese establishing themselves as a mid to upper table Serie A side, Bierhoff started to rack up the goals at a rate of two every three games – no mean feat for a striker playing in a workmanlike side in what was a tough league. It wouldn’t take long for the Nationaltrainer to come calling.

Bierhoff would make his debut for the Nationalmannschaft in February 1996, three months before his twenty-eighth birthday and just four months before the start of Euro 96. He would score his first international goals in his second match – a 2-0 friendly win over Denmark – and with it win a spot in the final tournament squad.

When the tournament began Bierhoff was seen as little more than a squad player. Having come on as a sub in Germany’s opening match against the Czech Republic and starting against Russia, he was consigned to the bench. With Jürgen Klinsmann struggling with injury, both VfB Stuttgart’s Fredi Bobic and Kaiserslautern’s Stefan Kuntz were ahead of Bierhood in the pecking order.

When Germany found themselves a goal down in the final to the Czechs following an unfortunate penalty, coach Berti Vogts threw caution to the wind with sixty-nine minutes gone. With Klinsmann and Kuntz already on the pitch and Bobic injured, the Nationaltrainer sent Bierhoff on for midfielder Mehmet Scholl.

Just four minutes after his arrival, Bierhoff found himself in space at the far post, nodding Christian Ziege’s cross into the Czech net to bring the Germans level. Just five minutes into extra time, he scooped the ball through the flailing hands of ‘keeper Petr Kouba to score the tournamemt’s first golden goal. From nowhere, the man who had never made his mark in the Bundesliga had become a legend.

After his golden goal heroics, Bierhoff would become a mainstay in the side. Partnering Klinsmann at the 1998 World Cup in France, he would score three goals. Following Klinsmann’s retirement at the end of that tournament, Bierhoff would assume the number one striker’s mantle.

In the years that followed, Bierhoff would maintain a decent strike rate in the Nationaltrikot, but those brought in to partner him up front were never quite able to reach the same standard. Former DDR international Ulf Kirsten would score twenty goals in fifty-one matches in the Schwarz und Weiß but would never really hit the heights when it really mattered, and others were tried including Carsten Jancker, the ageing Olaf Marschall and Bayer Leverkusen’s one-footed Brazilian Paulo Roberto Rink.

An injury to Bierhoff during Germany’s dismal Euro 2000 campaign would spell disaster for both the Mannschaft and its beleagured coach Erich Ribbeck, who found himself having to choose between the keen but geriatric Kirsten, the enthusiastic but lumbering giant Jancker, and the almost completely ineffective Rink, whose grand total of zero goals in thirteen outings would qualify him as one of the worst German international strikers of all time.

By the time qualifying began for the 2002 World Cup Bierhoff – now in his early thirties and reaching the end of his short but productive international career – would pretty much hold things together himself. Germany did not have to wait long for the next big number nine. Just about in the nick of time, a willowy young man from 1. FC Kaiserslautern – for some, the great Fritz Walter reborn – would make his way onto the international scene with a goal on his debut.

The Second King of Kaiserlautern: Miroslav Klose

Rudi Völler’s side would reach the 2002 World Cup finals via the playoffs, and the tournament would be Bierhoff’s last and Miroslav Klose’s first. The thirty-four year old veteran, now in France with AS Monaco after a solid spell at the San Siro that had seen him score thirty-seven goals in ninety-one games, would hit the target just once in his final tournament; his final match would be in the final against Brazil, and his overall record would end at seventy games played and thirty-seven goals scored, and a goals per game ratio a more than respectable 0.53, ahead of both Völler and Klinsmann.

Silesian-born Klose meanwhile would score five goals in the tournament, signalling yet another changing of the guard.

Following his successful tournament in Korea and Japan, Klose quickly established himself as the Nationalmannschaft’s number one goalscorer – maintaining a record of over a goal every two games. He was never a prolific scorer in club football, but there was something magical about Klose every time he ran onto the pitch for Germany. At Kaiserlautern between 1999 and 2004, he scored forty-four times in 120 games. Between 2007 and 2011, his twenty-four goals in the red of FC Bayern came at a rate of one every four games. The exception to this was at Werder Bremen between 2004 and 2007, where he had found the target fifty-three times in eighty-nine appearances.

Klose was one of those players who could perform miracles in the Nationaltrikot, and even when he found himself consigned to the substitutes’ bench at FC Bayern München he remained the first choice for the national side. A disappointing Euro 2004 was followed by a successful 2006 World Cup tournament on home soil where he netted another five goals, but the problem of a suitable strike partner still remained.

Without a genuine strike partner, the goals ended up being scored by winger Lukas Podolski – whose goals to games ratio was more like that of a centre-forward – and skipper Michael Ballack. Players like Kevin Kurányi (19 goals in 50 matches), Mike Hanke (1 in 12) and Gerald Asamoah (6 in 43) would come and go, but by 2007 the Nationaltrainer was looking at moving towards a one-striker system, allowing Klose to make the role his own.

The problem now was that by Euro 2008 Klose was in his thirties, and the woeful performance of his younger backup Mario Gómez had left some fans wondering whether the natural line of German free-scoring centre-forwards would continue.

Klose would defy his critics to score another couple of goals as Germany reached the final of the tournament in Austria and Switzerland, and continued to keep up his prolific strike rate through to the 2010 World Cup, where he scored a further four goals – including one in his 100th appearance against England which Germany would win 4-1.

Klose’s goals in South Africa would take his overall tally in World Cup finals matches to fourteen – level with Gerd Müller as the Mannschaft’s leading scorer in the history of the tournament. Meanwhile, the younger Gómez would only get forty-five minutes’ worth of match time in what was yet another major tournament failure.

Despite battling both age and ongoing fitness problems Klose – now plying his trade in Italy’s Serie A with SS Lazio – continued to score goals during Germany’s successful qualification campaign for Euro 2012, though by this time Gómez had finally started to share both the burden and the spoils when given the opportunity. The finals in Poland and Ukraine would see the younger man finally make his mark in an international tournament with three well-taken goals, while Klose found himself starting from the bench in four of the Nationalelf’s five matches. The game he did start against Greece would see him score his first Euro finals goal in three tournaments.

By the end of 2012 Klose had played a total of 126 matches for Germany – second only to the 150 of Lothar Matthäus – and was sitting on sixty-seven goals, just one single strike behind the long-standing record held by Gerd Müller. Injuries during the early part of 2013 would keep him out of the side, though this has taken away none of his enthusiasm. The thirty-four year old has undergone something of a renaissance at Lazio – epitomised by his recent five goal haul against Bologna, the joint-highest single-match return in Serie A history.

Klose will surely be looking to go onto the World Cup in 2014, and with it the opportunity to break both of Müller records as the top German goalscorer of all time and top German goalscorer in World Cup finals.

While Klose is clearly determined to see his international career end on a high in Brazil, the only man who is in any position to prevent this happening is Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw, who following injuries to both Klose and Gómez would eschew all other possible alternatives and play a strikerless system, popularly described as the “false nine”. When Germany took on Kazakhstan in their World Cup qualifying match on 22nd March 2013 in Astana, the starting eleven would not include a traditional number nine – the first time this had happened in over a century.

Rather than pick a replacement such as Stefan Kießling – the top German-born scorer in the Bundesliga this season by a distance – Löw would play a more elastic formation with roving winger Mario Götze slotting into the the “false nine” role. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that a fit Klose or Gómez may not be able to find a place in the starting lineup, it does provide an indication that life after Klose may mean the beginning of the end of the long-established centre-forward role.

While the Mannschaft’s more free-flowing football can accommodate a player like Klose – not only an excellent close-range finisher was also technically gifted enough to play a key link-up role – Gómez has found it increasingly difficult to convince, even despite a perfectly acceptable twenty-five goals in fifty-eight internationals. As for Kießling, his not being picked may have less to do with him than the system that Löw may actually employ.

Should Miroslav Klose return to full fitness, the chances are that he will return to the squad – if only because he understands and is able to work with those around him. Should he not, we could very easily see Löw press on and complete the transition towards the strikerless system. One may argue that the timing is right, in that are few players coming through the ranks that offer the same qualities as Klose.

While the success of both Kießling and Borussia Dortmund’s Polish international Robert Lewandoski has proved that the poacher’s role is not quite dead, they need to offer a lot more besides. The success of Lewandowski is also tip of another very large iceberg: apart from Kießling, there are very few players actually born in Germany that feature in the top goalscorer list. There are a number of promising youngsters, but the key word here is just that – promising. Unless Löw is willing to take a chance on an untested and possible raw striker – something that is becoming increasingly doubtful.

With Klose and Gómez now both fit again only time will tell, and only then will we really begin to know if Klose is going to be the last in this long line of illustrious names – and if the legend of the great German number nine is finally ausgestorben… Extinct.

Have we seen the last of the great German centre-forward?

4 thoughts on “Have we seen the last of the great German centre-forward?

  • May 2, 2021 at 22:15

    When Julian Brandt play for Leverkusen, he could be a candidate, just need more confidence.

  • June 9, 2014 at 22:22

    ja das ist ja richtig, aber … short ist kurz/klein und fat idt dick …

  • June 9, 2014 at 16:52

    The man popularly known as Uns Uwe (“Our Uwe”), or der Dicke (“the short one”)

    da ist wohl was falsch hier … dick = short ???

    nicht zu verwechseln mit “kleines dickes Müller” o-Ton Tschick 😉


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