It all began on a chilly and damp evening in Leverkusen, on 24th March 2001.
Up against Albania in a crucial World Cup qualifier, the Nationalmannschaft had taken the lead five minutes into the second half after a stunning strike from up and coming superstar Sebastian Deisler – only for their less heralded opponents to level the score from the penalty spot just over a quarter of an hour later. Nationaltrainer Rudi Völler was desperate to turn things around, and with seventeen minutes remaining a skinny twenty-two year old from 1. FC Kaiserslautern made his way onto the pitch.
As the rain came down the Albanians would have a spring in their step, but with just two minutes remaining the hard-working Jens Jeremies found Carsten Ramelow out on the right. A square ball intended for the lumbering Carsten Jancker squirmed through and past Albanian ‘keeper Fotaq Strakosha, and that skinny substitute arrived at the far post with the goal at his mercy. Too far away for the simple tap in, the man in the number eighteen shirt slid in head first to direct the ball into the back of the net – following that with what would soon become a trademark celebration.
Nobody could ever have plotted out what would come in the following years, but the career of Miroslav Klose had begun.
The son of an ethnic German from Silesia, Mirosław Jozef Klose was born in the Polish town of Opole – in German, Oppeln – on 9th June 1978. The son of Jozef Klose, a professional footballer who had left Poland the year his son was born to play in France with AJ Auxerre, the youngster moved to Germany at the age of eight. With his father being a former footballer himself and his mother Barbara a onetime member of the Polish national handball team, the young Mirosław – later changed to Miroslav – had naturally gravitated to sport. This was long before the introduction of the now famous German scouting system however, and Klose remained under the radar. Playing for local club team SG Blaubach-Diedelkopf, he also trained to be a carpenter.
It would soon become apparent that while Klose was good at craving wood, he was far more adept at carving open opposition defences. In 1998 at the age of twenty he signed for nearby FC 08 Homburg, then sitting in the fourth-tier Oberliga Südwest. Despite being spotted late, Klose made his way into the first team at FC 08 – and would get his first genuine break the following year with a move to nearby 1. FC Kaiserslautern – the club of the legendary Fritz Walter, one of the young striker’s heroes.
By the middle of the 2000/2001 season Klose was a regular in the first team at the Betzenberg, and had also caught the attention of Rudi Völler. With the national team desperate for a quality goalscorer in the tradition of Walter, Gerd Müller, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Jürgen Klinsmann and Völler himself, the coach turned to the promising twenty-two year old from Kaiserslautern.
When one looks at it now, Klose’s break into the national team setup could be considered either incredibly fortunate or the result of perfect timing. Since the retirement of Klinsmann in 1998 the attack had been propped up by an ageing Oliver Bierhoff and a series of journeymen, meaning that picking a relatively inexperienced late developer with not even one full Bundesliga season under his belt was not quite the risk it might have been even a couple of years earlier.
The twenty-two year old Miroslav Klose celebrates his first international goal on his debut against Albania in a cold and wet Leverkusen on 24th March 2001
Unlike those journeymen however, Klose showed his class right from the start. Having scrabbled around blind in the mine, Völler had found a genuine diamond. Even then, it would take some time for Klose to make himself a permanent fixture in the starting lineup. A second international goal in his second game against Greece in Athens followed four days later, but Klose would start from the bench for the following five matches.
World Cup success
Klose’s first start would come in a friendly at his home ground against Israel on 13th February 2002, and from that point he did not look back. A first international hat-trick propelled the Mannschaft to an emphatic 7-1 win, and a man who had been a relative unknown just a year earlier was now being touted as Germany’s new goalscoring hero – Kaiserslautern’s new Fritz Walter. Three goalless games followed, but a second hat-trick against Austria effectively secure Klose’s ticket to the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.
Klose seamlessly moved onto the world stage with ease, and announced his arrival to the watching world with his third hat-trick in Germany’s opening game against Saudi Arabia – and the famous celebratory somersault, the Klose-Salto. Further strikes against the Republic of Ireland and Cameroon took Klose’s World Cup tally to five goals in three games – all headers – but he would have a slightly quieter time in the knockout rounds as Germany chipped away at their opponents en route to the final in Yokohama against Brazil. There Klose could only stand and watch as Ronaldo scored twice for the South Americans.
Klose celebrates the second of his three goals in the 2002 World Cup match against Saudi Arabia with his famous somersault or “Salto”
Peaks and troughs
A disappointing and injury-riddled European Championships in 2004 was followed by a move to Werder Bremen at the start of the following season, and the goals started to flow. However, Klose could not take this domestic form onto the pitch for Germany, now under new coach Klinsmann. Following his goal against Cameroon at the World Cup on 11th June 2002, Klose had only scored only six goals in thirty-one matches until his first goal of 2006 against the United States in a Dortmund friendly – but the coach kept his faith in the striker.
In 2002 – the previous World Cup year – Klose had scored twelve goals in seventeen matches. In 2003, he scored just one in ten, followed by five in eleven in 2004 and none in five in 2005. Yet with his place in the starting lineup being threatened by a number of younger players in the buildup to the World Cup in 2006, Klose sparked into life. It was clear that playing on the world’s biggest footballing stage brought the best out of him.
Nobody had expected much from Klinsmann’s side even on home soil, but the Sommermärchen that followed would mark the beginning of a new era for German football. Spearheading the campaign would be Klose, who would be back at the top of his goalscoring game. Two goals in the opening game against Costa Rica would be followed by another brace against Ecuador, and the crucial equaliser in the quarter-final against Argentina would take him to five goals for the second World Cup in a row – in all, ten goals in a dozen World Cup finals matches.
There was more disappointment however in the semi-final against Italy, where Klose and the rest of the German team drew a blank. Germany would eventually finish in third place, and Klose added a bronze medal to his silver one from 2002 as well the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top goalscorer.
As in 2002, 2006 was a good year for the Polish-born striker. In seventeen games played in the calendar year, he scored thirteen goals.
Argentinian defender Juan Pablo Sorín can only watch as Klose’s diving header levels the scores in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final in Berlin
Having scored fifty-three goals in eighty-nine matches for Werder Bremen, Klose would make the biggest move in German football by signing for FC Bayern München. Things really didn’t go to plan though, and is from in front of goal for Die Roten slipped dramatically. Nevertheless, he would remain the go-to man for new coach Joachim Löw in the Nationaltrikot. Having drawn a blank at the Euros in 2004, Klose’s goalscoring touch once again deserted him in the group stages of the 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland, but he would come good with goals in both the quarter-final against Portugal and semi-final against Turkey. This was followed by yet another blank in the final against Spain, and Klose once again had to make do with another runners-up medal.
While other younger strikers would come and go – Kevin Kurányi, Fredi Bobic, Patrick Helmes, Stefan Kießling and Mike Hanke to name but five – Klose remained, and the fresh and spindly twenty-two year old from 2001 had been transformed into the veteran in a young and talented squad that headed to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Unlike the period in between 2002 and 2006 where things had dried up for Klose, the following four-year cycle between 2006 and 2010 would see him maintain a strike rate of better than a goal every two games.
On 10th October 2009 a forty-eighth international goal against Russia in Moscow would take Klose ahead of both Klinsmann and Völler into second place on the all-time German goalscorers’ list, and as the World Cup approached the now thirty-two year old was still the first choice – keeping his position in front of the younger, stronger and domestically more prolific Mario Gómez.
As in 2002 and 2006, 2010 was another brilliant World Cup year for the quiet and professional goalscorer. Germany would once again fall short in the semi-final and finish with another third-place finish in South Africa, but Klose would score four more times in five matches to take him level with the great Gerd Müller on fourteen World Cup goals – and just one behind Ronaldo’s tally of fifteen. A goal against Australia in the the opening fixture was followed by a typical poacher’s effort to open the scoring in the second phase against England in Bloemfontein, but Klose’s most special contribution came on what was his hundredth game for the Nationalmannschaft against Argentina in Cape Town. On a day where the South Americans were put to the sword by a rampant German team, Klose marked his special day with a brace of clinical close-range finishes.
Klose was the first man to score at least four goals in three separate World Cup tournaments, and were it not for his unfortunate and unmerited group phase red card against Serbia and missing out on the third place play-off against Uruguay through injury, he would have had a good chance of adding to his tally.
The scourge of the Argentinians in the World Cup, Klose wheels away after scoring his second and Germany’s fourth in the 2010 quarter-final in Cape Town
Klose had staved off a succession of young pretenders, but nobody had given him much hope of making the team in Brazil in the summer of 2014 – during which he turned thirty-six. Yet, the goalscoring continued. Twelve goals in ten matches in 2010 was followed by five in eight in 2011, and he started the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign in fine style with nine goals in the first six matches. This purple patch was ended by injury, and despite Klose’s determination the combination of age, durability and the continued improvement of Gómez seemed to hasten the beginning of the end for the veteran.
Euro 2012 saw Klose – by now in Serie A with SS Lazio – relegated to the bench with Gómez claiming the starting spot, but a surprise start against Greece saw him score his sixty-fourth international goal before being relegated to the bench once again for the semi-final against Italy. With Germany already two goals down the coach would turn to Klose at the start of the second half, but the thirty-four year old was unable to prevent yet another disappointing semi-final defeat.
The history maker
Klose would play only four matches in 2013, and despite continuing to find the back of the net in Serie A had to endure a stop-start campaign peppered with injuries. Yet as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil approached he was still in Jogi’s Löw’s mind, his cause no doubt assisted by an injury to Gómez and the lack of any genuine alternative among the up and coming youngsters. Nevertheless, he continued slowly but surely, and on 6th September 2013 finally equalled Gerd Müller’s thirty-nine year record. It had taken Klose more than twice as many games as Der Bomber to reach the mark and score his sixty-eighth international goal, but it was an accolade that was truly deserved.
After another injury that kept him out of the team for the first half of 2014, he finally claimed the record outright in Germany’s final World Cup warmup against Armenia at the Coface Arena in Mainz. With his sixty-ninth goal in his 132nd international, Miroslav Klose became – statistically at least – the greatest German striker of all time. In comparing himself with Müller however, the always humble Klose was quick to downplay his own achievements.
The final chapter in this amazing story would come in Brazil in 2014, Klose’s fourth World Cup. Having turned thirty-six in the week before the start of the tournament he started off the bench, but his love affair with the tournament was set to continue. Just minutes after stepping onto the pitch against Ghana with his team trailing 2-1, the arch-poacher did what he had always done best. Stealing in at the far post, the magical Miro stabbed home the equaliser to claim a precious point. It was followed by the famous Salto celebration, but one that was clearly a 2014 vintage as Klose just about avoided landing flat on his backside.
Klose’s fifteenth goal in his twenty-first World Cup match took him one ahead of the the German record jointly held with Müller, and level with the all-time tally held by Ronaldo – who was quick to send his congratulations to the man he had beaten twelve years earlier in Japan. Klose would make his first start of the tournament in the quarter-final against France, and was also in the starting eleven that would take on hosts Brazil in the semi-final Belo Horizonte – a game where both the veteran striker and the Mannschaft would make history.
So much has been said about the historic 7-1 demolition of the tournament hosts, and was only appropriate that Klose would play a big part in it. Having been part of the German team that had succumbed twelve years earlier against the same opposition in Yokohama, it was first stage in the closing of the circle. With the Nationalelf already a goal up through Thomas Müller, Klose doubled the lead after twenty-three minutes at the second time of asking with a sweep of that lethal right foot.
The final goal of an illustrious career. With a sweep of his right foot, Klose scores his record-breaking sixteenth World Cup goal against Brazil in Belo Horizonte
As with his previous fifteen goals, there was nothing spectacular about Klose’s record-breaking sixteenth World Cup goal. It was a typical poacher’s effort, clinically executed from close range. That it had come against Brazil on their home turf was a fitting bonus. As his team mates continued to tear the Brazilians apart, Klose’s job was done. On an individual level, he could not climb any higher: already his country’s top goalscorer of all time with a total of seventy-one goals, he was now alone at the top of the tree as the most prolific marksman in World Cup history as well.
Glory in Rio: The circle is complete
All that remained now for Klose was to finally add that gold winners’ medal to his one silver and two bronzes, and this would be achieved in the hard-fought struggle against old foes Argentina in the final at the famous Maracanã. In the two previous World Cup meetings against the Albiceleste in 2006 and 2010 Klose had found the back of the net, but this time he would see the winning goal from the touchline having been subbed off two minutes from the end of normal time. Mario Götze’s 113th-minute winner settled the issue, and Klose could finally let the curtain fall on his amazing career as a World Cup winner.
In every respect, he was now second to none.
Klose announced his retirement from international football on August 12th 2014, with little ceremony or fanfare. For him winning the World Cup in Brazil had been the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and one of the first things he did was thank all of those who had helped him to achieve it. While he was just as driven and ambitious as anyone else – it takes more than a degree of drive and ambition to play at the highest level at the age of thirty-six, after all – the ever-humble Klose always made it abundantly clear that he was simply doing his job as part of a successful team.
The statistics, of course, suggest that Klose had given far more than that. In addition to his clinical goalscoring ability, there was his solid team ethic, commitment, humility, sportsmanship and grace. Then there was his adaptability. Having come into the German squad long before the cultural and technical renaissance under Klinsmann and Löw, he continued to adapt his game to fit the ever-changing style and tactics, always with success. The pure goalscorer of 2002 became the team man of 2006, the flexible heart of the attack in 2010 and the grizzled veteran of 2014.
A winner at last. Klose celebrates after the Nationalmannschaft’s victory at the Maracanã with the World Cup trophy and twin sons Luan and Noah
The game was constantly changing around him, but Klose never once looked out of place. For every yard he lost in pace, he made up for it with his smart thinking and positioning. His professionalism and willingness to adapt and improve his game was one of his biggest strengths – something that always kept him well in front of younger players in the pecking order. The only barrier at the end was age and fitness, something that eventually catches up with even the best of the best. Even then, he had made it to a fourth World Cup finals when many had long ruled him out.
Klose was also something of a talisman: in the forty-nine matches where he had found the back of the net, Germany had never ended up on the losing side. While he himself would scoff at comparisons to Müller and Ronaldo, his tenacity and longevity carried their own merit.
I touched upon this right at the beginning of this article, but is also hard to remember the circumstances in which Klose had arrived on the international scene – especially for younger German fans. Between 1998 and 2002 German football had sunk to its deepest nadir, with the dearth of top class strikers being one of the biggest problems. At the time all that remained was a creaking Oliver Bierhoff at the tail-end of his career, and a group of strikers who were indifferent at best. There was Ulf Kirsten, a striker who like Bierhoff had seen better days. Carsten Jancker, whose big heart and unbridled passion could never really make up for a lack of basic ability. Olaf Marschall, a big-haired relic from the GDR. Paulo Rink, a desperate Brazilian import with two left feet who had failed to find the back of the net in thirteen appearances in the Nationaltrikot.
On that soggy evening in Leverkusen with Germany struggling against an ordinary Albanian side, Klose was, alongside Michael Ballack, the beacon of hope. The source of the light at the end of what seemed like a very dark tunnel. It was Klose who gave every German supporter the faith to believe that the Nationalmannschaft could produce another goalscorer to follow in the great tradition; thirteen years later, we would see the culmination of this development. As he held the famous golden World Cup trophy aloft, Klose had not only fulfilled his own dream, but that of every German fan.
In making the journey from the dark depths of despair to that glorious moment in Rio, one man was always there. Having picked up the torch, Klose in a sense epitomised German football’s long march from the darkness into the glittering light of the Maracanã. For some this may be something of exaggeration and Klose himself would surely play such a tribute down, but this is how I have always felt as a fan. When he made his first appearance in Brazil against Ghana and found the back of the net less than two minutes later, it would sum things up perfectly.
For me, it just had to be.
“For Miro it was always an honour to play for the national team and he has given everything to Germany. He will be missed as a footballer and a person and I am happy and grateful I was able to work with him.”
Miroslav Klose finishes on 137 caps and 71 goals, with a strike rate of 0.52 goals per game – a rate of one goal every other game. In World Cups his record is even better, with his record-setting sixteen strikes coming in a total of just twenty-four appearances – itself just one short of Lothar Matthäus’ twenty-five games in five tournaments between 1982 and 1998. Had circumstances been more favourable Klose could have finished his career with this record as well – but I suppose you can’t have it all.
Klose scored his record total of seventy-one goals in forty-nine of his 137 appearances in the Nationaltrikot, the first coming on that wet evening in Leverkusen and the last being struck in that famous demolition of Brazil in Belo Horizonte. His record includes four hat-tricks and fourteen Doppelpacks.
|Albania||2001.03.24||WC 2002 Qualifier||Leverkusen||2-1||2-1||1|
|Greece||2001.03.28||WC 2002 Qualifier||Athens||3-2||4-2||2|
|Saudi Arabia||2002.06.01||WC 2002 1R||Sapporo||1-0||8-0||9|
|Saudi Arabia||2002.06.01||WC 2002 1R||Sapporo||2-0||8-0||10|
|Saudi Arabia||2002.06.01||WC 2002 1R||Sapporo||5-0||8-0||11|
|Republic of Ireland||2002.06.05||WC 2002 1R||Ibaraki||1-0||1-1||12|
|Cameroon||2002.06.11||WC 2002 1R||Shizuoka||2-0||2-0||13|
|Faroe Islands||2002.10.16||EC 2004 Qualifier||Hannover||2-1||2-1||14|
|Faroe Islands||2003.06.11||EC 2004 Qualifier||Tórshavn||1-0||2-0||15|
|Costa Rica||2006.06.09||WC 2006 1R||München||2-1||4-2||25|
|Costa Rica||2006.06.09||WC 2006 1R||München||3-1||4-2||26|
|Ecuador||2006.06.20||WC 2006 1R||Berlin||1-0||3-0||27|
|Ecuador||2006.06.20||WC 2006 1R||Berlin||2-0||3-0||28|
|Argentina||2006.06.30||WC 2006 QF||Berlin||1-1||1-1*||29|
|San Marino||2006.09.06||EC 2008 Qualifier||Serravalle||3-0||13-0||32|
|San Marino||2006.09.06||EC 2008 Qualifier||Serravalle||6-0||13-0||33|
|Wales||2007.09.08||EC 2008 Qualifier||Cardiff||1-0||2-0||34|
|Wales||2007.09.08||EC 2008 Qualifier||Cardiff||2-0||2-0||35|
|Cyprus||2007.11.17||EC 2008 Qualifier||Hannover||2-0||4-0||36|
|Portugal||2008.06.19||EC 2008 QF||Basel||2-0||3-2||40|
|Turkey||2008.06.25||EC 2008 SF||Basel||2-1||3-2||41|
|Finland||2008.09.10||WC 2010 Qualifier||Helsinki||1-1||3-3||42|
|Finland||2008.09.10||WC 2010 Qualifier||Helsinki||2-2||3-3||43|
|Finland||2008.09.10||WC 2010 Qualifier||Helsinki||3-3||3-3||44|
|Azerbaijan||2009.08.12||WC 2010 Qualifier||Baku||2-0||2-0||45|
|Azerbaijan||2009.09.09||WC 2010 Qualifier||Hannover||2-0||4-0||46|
|Azerbaijan||2009.09.09||WC 2010 Qualifier||Hannover||3-0||4-0||47|
|Russia||2009.10.10||WC 2010 Qualifier||Moscow||1-0||1-0||48|
|Australia||2010.06.13||WC 2010 1R||Durban||2-0||4-0||49|
|England||2010.06.27||WC 2010 2R||Bloemfontein||1-0||4-1||50|
|Argentina||2010.07.03||WC 2010 QF||Cape Town||2-0||4-0||51|
|Argentina||2010.07.03||WC 2010 QF||Cape Town||4-0||4-0||52|
|Belgium||2010.09.03||EC 2012 Qualifier||Bruxelles||1-0||1-0||53|
|Azerbaijan||2010.09.07||EC 2012 Qualifier||Köln||3-0||6-1||54|
|Azerbaijan||2010.09.07||EC 2012 Qualifier||Köln||6-1||6-1||55|
|Turkey||2010.10.08||EC 2012 Qualifier||Berlin||1-0||3-0||56|
|Turkey||2010.10.08||EC 2012 Qualifier||Berlin||3-0||3-0||57|
|Kazakhstan||2010.10.12||EC 2012 Qualifier||Astana||1-0||3-0||58|
|Kazakhstan||2011.03.26||EC 2012 Qualifier||Kaiserslautern||1-0||4-0||60|
|Kazakhstan||2011.03.26||EC 2012 Qualifier||Kaiserslautern||4-0||4-0||61|
|Austria||2011.09.02||EC 2012 Qualifier||Gelsenkirchen||1-0||6-2||62|
|Greece||2012.06.22||EC 2012 QF||Gdańsk||3-1||4-2||64|
|Republic of Ireland||2012.10.12||WC 2014 Qualifier||Dublin||4-0||6-1||65|
|Sweden||2012.10.16||WC 2014 Qualifier||Berlin||1-0||4-4||66|
|Sweden||2012.10.16||WC 2014 Qualifier||Berlin||2-0||4-4||67|
|Austria||2013.09.06||WC 2014 Qualifier||München||1-0||3-0||68|
|Ghana||2014.06.21||WC 2014 1R||Fortaleza||2-2||2-2||70|
|Brazil||2014.07.08||WC 2014 SF||Belo Horizonte||2-0||7-1||71|
Green: World Cup Finals; Purple: European Championship Finals
Games Played: 137
Goals Scored: 71
Strike Rate: 0.52 goals per game
The following graph tracks Klose’s record for the Nationalmannschaft from 2001 to 2014, plotting his games played and goals scored.
The second chart plots Klose’s goals per game ratio for every year from 2001 to 2014. His overall record would finish at 0.52 goals per game, but his reputation as a World Cup wonder can clearly be seen by the peaks in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 (marked A to D).
Tournament Finals Record: WC 2002 (5), WC 2006 (5), WC 2010 (4), WC 2014 (2), EC 2004 (0), EC 2008 (2), EC 2012 (1)
Titles/Awards Won: WC Top Scorer 2006, WC Winner 2014, WC All-Time Top Scorer