The 35-year-old broke Gerd Muller's long-standing Germany goalscoring record in the comprehensive win over Armenia on Friday and deserves credit for his longevity in the game
By Peter Staunton
There is a theory that, deep down, not many people wanted Miroslav Klose to rein in Gerd Muller's goalscoring record for the Germany national team.
It had become impossible to talk about Klose without mentioning it. But he did so. And not in a World Cup final against The Netherlands either but, perhaps typically for the man, in a friendly against Armenia. The general vibe about their intertemporal feud is that Muller deserved to keep it more than Klose deserved to snatch it from him.
It took 'Der Bomber' 62 matches to score 68 times for West Germany. That is barely conceivable. He retired after scoring the winner in the 1974 World Cup final. Muller's goalscoring ratio, if not the tally, will never be bettered. One of the last football myth-makers, he existed before the overexposure of today's football stars. When there were secrets and guys were not knocked down because they had a bad game here or there. He, even now, could have been anything in our minds. A legend. You don't beat legends.
"Short and fat", according to one of his early coaches at Bayern Munich. He didn't move very much, unless he sensed a goal, and would undoubtedly have been labelled a goalhanger in the school yard. Yet his records defy logic. He was, arguably, West Germany and Bayern's most important player during a time at which they boasted Franz Beckenbauer. Born to score goals.
Klose is nothing if not honest. "It means an awful lot, [to equal Muller's tally], he said after scoring against Austria in September. "But I do not want you to put me on the same level as Gerd. It's an absolute joke to compare myself with him."
On the numbers alone it would indeed be an absolute joke to compare the two. It took Muller less than half the number of games to reach the same number of goals. Throw in his list of honours and you wouldn't be long in seeing what any comparison crumbles. But times change. Just as Lionel Messi pinched his record for most calendar goals in a year, Muller's international exploits are being ravaged by time. Even Thomas Muller is known as the German number 13 these days. It would be a disservice to the man if, in future generations, people examining goalscoring statistics passed over the man in second place. It would be to fundamentally misinterpret his appeal.
Instead, Klose's capturing of Germany's all-time top-scoring record is a testament to his longevity rather than his explosiveness. Sure, he was quick in 2002 when he first caught the attention in Korea-Japan, but there were no indications that the orthodox, upright, Klose had it in him to effectively lead the line for 10 or 12 years.
But that he has done, defiantly. Like it or not, he was a remnant from the days before Germany could count on a superior youth system which has churned out one world-class player after the other in the last decade. Klose has endured even as the landscape of German football changed utterly around him. As Jeremies became Frings and Frings became Khedira and Khedira became Kramer.
Indifferent club form never saw him fall out of Joachim Low's favour even with Stefan Kiessling banging on the door. He's seen off another pretender, like he did Mario Gomez. When there have been calls to put him to pasture, up he pops again. The second-highest scoring player in World Cup history, a record which lashes him to Muller for another year. He is the only player to score four or more goals at three different World Cups.
So, remember it's not about who is the better goalscorer; Muller has proven beyond doubt that he is. But credit where it's due. His will be an international career spanning 13 years. He will score more; maybe reach 80. Klose has shone brighter, for longer. Is it better to burn out than to fade away?