Miroslav Klose carved a unique legacy in football. A regular – if often unremarkable – goalscorer at club level, Klose was a forward who was rarely championed when discussing the greatest goalscorers of his era.
When his career came to a close however, it did so with Klose cemented as the greatest goalscorer in Germany’s history and, more celebrated, to have ever graced the World Cup. When the pressure was on and the stage the biggest, Klose came to the fore.
He earned his first opportunity at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea in 2002, where a flurry of Bundesliga goals for FC Kaiserslautern had catapulted the Poland-born striker into the plans of the German national team.
Klose had moved to Germany at the age of eight and first honed his football talent at amateur side SG Blaubach-Diedelkopf, working on the natural sporting credentials inherited from parents who both reached an elite standard in their chosen sports. His father, Josef, was a footballer who turned out for French side Auxerre, while Klose’s mother, Barbara, represented Poland at handball.
Miroslav was a relative late starter when it came to his own professional career. At 21, he was still playing in the fifth tier of German football for FC 08 Homburg, before crossing to Kaiserslautern a season later after piquing the interest of a scout from the top-tier side.
The latter were punching alongside the Bundesliga’s best at the turn of the millennium, having shocked Germany to win the Bundesliga in 1997/98 after promotion the previous season, before four consecutive top-half finishes.
The fourth of those campaigns saw Klose score 16 league goals, just two short of the league-leading total. He had made his international debut the previous season and marked the occasion with a late winner against Albania.
Klose took to international football with ease and a run of goals – including hat-tricks against Israel and Austria – cemented his place in the Germany team for the upcoming World Cup. The Germans had laboured to qualification, a campaign which included a 5-1 home humiliation against England, and were arriving in the Far East in low mood. A dismal Euro 2000 had tempered expectations for a nation who more often than not entered major tournaments with only one goal in mind.
Then came the game that announced Klose’s arrival to the wider consciousness. Saudi Arabia were, admittedly, limited opposition in Germany’s opening group game, but a hat-trick of headers propelled Die Mannschaft to an 8-0 win in Sapporo.
Klose lacked the star appeal of forwards elsewhere in the tournament, but the 23-year-old boasted alertness in the area, great aerial ability, and trademark German efficiency. He scored again against Ireland and Cameroon to book Germany’s place in the knockout rounds, becoming the first player in history to score five headed goals at a World Cup.
A hat-trick of identical goals on his World Cup debut! 🤩
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 24, 2022
Rudi Völler’s unfancied team went on to reach the final and while Klose failed to score beyond the group, he ended the tournament as the joint-second highest scorer, behind Brazil’s Ronaldo, who scored both goals to defeat the Germans in the decider.
Despite his new found status, Klose remained at Kaiserslautern for a further two seasons, before signing for German champions Werder Bremen in 2004. The best goal-per-game return of his career followed in three seasons with Die Grün-Weißen, including a haul of 31 goals in all competitions in 2005/06. That career-best campaign earned Klose the Bundesliga top scorer and Player of the Season awards, and led perfectly into that summer’s World Cup, where Germany were hosts.
An overhaul of German football in the wake of disastrous European Championship performances in 2000 and 2004 had began to show signs of fruition, with Lukas Podolski, Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger the emerging names in a squad now coached by Jürgen Klinsmann.
Klose was again tasked with leading the line and scored five goals for the home nation. Group stage braces against Costa Rice and Ecuador, and a quarter-final equaliser against Argentina, were enough to earn the forward the Golden Boot. Germany, however, fell short in the semi-final.
Klose’s club career took him to Bayern Munich in 2007, arguably the end-goal destination in German football. His time with the Bavarians was productive, if not prolific, with 53 goals in 149 games. A pair of German league and cup doubles delivered silverware, but Klose never commanded main man status in Munich, doing much of his work in the shadow of Luca Toni and Mario Gomez.
For Germany, however, Klose was the undisputed talisman. Another near miss saw Germany finish as runners-up at the 2008 European Championship, before heading to South Africa for another crack at the World Cup two years later.
This was a new ‘multiculti’ Germany, a squad brimming with both talent and ethnic diversity. Half of the travelling squad were either born outside of Germany, were the children of immigrants, or had one non-German parent.
Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira became household names in South Africa, while Thomas Muller announced his arrival as a superstar of the game. Germany were free-scoring and fun, scoring four goals in wins over Australia, England and Argentina on route to the last four. Again, the cutting edge was Klose, who returned another four goals on the world stage.
Klose’s professionalism ensured that when the World Cup rolled round again four years later, he was still in contention to feature. A move to Lazio had seen Klose score 39 goals across three seasons, with his intuitive instincts around goal remaining in tact, even as the clocked ticked towards the conclusion of his football career.
The absence of Mario Gomez meant Klose travelled to the 2014 tournament as the only recognised forward in Joachim Löw’s squad, one which boasted a cast of creative talents but lacked out-and-out forwards of Klose’s ilk, uninterested in events outside the penalty area.
In the final friendly before the tournament Klose scored his 69th goal for the national team, breaking the record of Gerd Muller as Germany’s greatest goalscorer. Next on his list: World Cup immortality.
Germany opened their campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, though Klose remained an unused substitute as Thomas Muller took centre stage with a hat-trick.
He came off the bench to rescue a draw against Ghana in the second fixture, as the 36-year-old steered in from a yard out with his first touch of the game. It was a goal that encapsulated the best of Klose, a live-wire of movement inside the area. The goal made Klose the joint-leading scorer in World Cup history, matching the 15-goal return of Ronaldo in the Brazilian’s own backyard.
If that had upset Brazil, then Klose’s record-breaking moment would leave the host’s hysterical. Germany had beaten Algeria and France to set up a semi-final showdown with the South Americans, but Brazil’s hopes of a home World Cup success were shattered as the Germans inflicted a brutal beating in Belo Horizonte.
Thomas Muller handed Germany an early lead, before Klose’s historic goal sparked a period that would shock the world. The veteran forward fired home at the second attempt, after Julio Cesar had parried his initial effort back into his path, with Klose making no mistake second time around to score his 16th World Cup goal.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 5, 2019
No sooner had Klose celebrated his special moment, Germany had a third, a fourth, and a fifth. Toni Kroos’ brace – scored within 179 seconds – and Sami Khedira put Germany 5-0 up inside 29 minutes. Andre Schurrle came off the bench to score twice in the second half, as Brazil’s first competitive home defeat in 39 years saw them thrashed 7-1. In front of an expectant home crowd and on football’s biggest stage, it was an embarrassment beyond measure.
The final against Argentina proved a rather less spectacular affair, in a cagey contest at the Maracana. Mario Gotze – on as a late substitute to replace Klose in normal time – scored a stunning extra-time winner to crown Germany champions.
For Klose, it was his final appearance in a Germany shirt as the master poacher called time on his international career, a month after the celebrations in Rio de Janeiro.
It brought an end to a career in which Klose rarely commanded universal appreciation at club level, but in a German shirt and when the lights were brightest, he was devastatingly decisive.