So sudden and dramatic was his escape from communist Poland that when Josef Klose arrived on a railway platform in West Germany in 1986, his eight-year-old son, Miroslav, carried just a football in his bag and two German words on his lips — “ja” and “danke”, yes and thank you respectively.
Today, nearly three decades later, Miroslav Klose can, of course, converse fluently in his adopted country’s language. From the days of owning just one air-filled bladder, the Lazio striker’s assets have ballooned to over Euros 25 million. But on the football field, the shy and soft-spoken 36-year-old is said to go back to being that awestruck child on the cusp of entering an alien world. A boy with a two-word German vocabulary.
“Ja”, he says, when alerting a midfielder of his presence, calling for a pass. “Danke”, he is often caught mouthing with a high clap, after a great cross has allowed him to trouble a goalkeeper or simply destroy his reputation. When it really matters, such as at the World Cups, you can catch him clapping rather often and constantly chanting “dankes”, considering few have dazzled at the grandest sporting stage quite like him.
When Germany’s campaign began three weeks ago in Salvador, few would have believed that Klose’s services would be needed again. Not after an inspired Joachim Loew’s side crushed Portugal 4-0. Some die-hard Die Mannschaft fans even carried banners to Germany’s following group game against Ghana that read: “Mueller=Säugling Klose”, roughly translated as Mueller=Baby Klose.
They were right, no doubt. After all, Thomas Mueller had whipped in a hat-trick to begin his second World Cup, having finished his first in South Africa with the Golden Boot award for his collection of five goals. Klose-esque, almost. All that changed an hour into the Ghana game as Loew, with Germany trailing 2-1, scanned his dugout for a man that every Alemania coach in the last decade has unfailingly turned to. Klose of course.
A hundred and ten seconds later, he had equalised.
Klose’s goal against the African nation was spectacular, not just due to the match situation or for the fact that he put in perspective the pressure-caused frailties of a ‘golden generation’ several eras removed, but mainly because it made him one of the most potent footballers to ever participate in the quadrennial. Not only had he become the third man, after Pele and Uwe Seeler, to score in four World Cups, but Klose had also matched Ronaldo’s all-time record of 15 World Cup goals.
The benevolent Fenomena later tweeted: “Welcome to the club. I can only imagine your happiness!!! What a great World Cup!!!” The Telegraph noted that in one sentence, the former Brazil great had used six more exclamation marks than Klose ever would. But the ethnic German too exclaimed at that moment with perhaps his first front-flipping somersault in his thirties. It’s another matter that he landed on his backside.
“Well, I can’t remember when I last did one,” he laughed later, speaking to perhaps a journalist-cum-friend, for Klose is not known to publicly string together more than a couple of words to form a sentence. Then, more in tune with his understated style, the striker is quoted to have added: “But 15 goals in 20 World Cup games isn’t too bad”.
Not bad at all if you take into consideration that he scored all of eight goals for Lazio in the season gone by. But that’s Klose for you, a singular personality who somehow manages to step it up when the occasion most demands it. That’s how it’s been ever since he made his World Cup debut, a dozen summers ago.
In 2002, coach Rudi Voeller raised several eyebrows by picking an unheralded striker from a little-known club called FC Kaiserslautern. Klose, though, had a lot more belief in himself than his critics did, as he proved by heading in three goals in Germany’s opening game against Saudi Arabia. Then he nodded in one more against Ireland and another one versus Cameroon, as an inspired Germany headed straight to their first final since 1990.
In 2006, before a home World Cup, Loew — then coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant — caught sight of Klose’s brilliance as he added five more to take his Copa tally to 10. Klose only made Loew’s 2010 squad as an afterthought, considering he had suffered a most miserable season with Bayern Munich, finding the back of the net in the preceding Bundesliga season on just two occasions. Loew knew enough to field him and he responded with four more goals, just one short of his Säugling equivalent, Mueller.
Now, he may be on the verge of a record-breaking 16th. “What better way to bring it in than against Brazil in Brazil, during a World Cup semi-final?” asks Philipp Hertz, a former amateur footballer with Nuremberg FC who has a ticket for the Belo Horizonte semi-final. “If anyone can take us to the final, he can. Apart from him in this squad, no one else has been there before.”
Were it to happen, it would be an apt and glorious end to a remarkable international career, one that he has already called time on. He is almost certain to start against the hosts for three intertwined reasons — he is the only true striker in Loew’s squad, Germany’s frontline have struggled to score in the knock-outs and Brazil have been weakened in captain and central defender Thiago Silva’s absence.
Even if Klose doesn’t make the starting eleven, the quiet man will patiently wait his turn. When that time comes, the eight-year-old boy inside him will be ready — armed with a football by his feet and those two introductory German words on his lips.
5 goals in 2002 (Silver Boot: Joint-second in the Golden Boot race)
5 goals in 2006 (Golden Boot)
4 goals in 2010
1 goal in 2014 so far