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A man of few words

When you think of Miroslav Klose, you think of goals. 'Whoa, what else is new?' you might be tempted to say. But wait, what I mean is this: you think only of goals. Because, what else is there, really?

Like that other predatory phenomenon from Germany he is often compared to, Gerd Müller, Klose is an enigma on and off the pitch.

On the pitch, he suddenly appears seemingly from nowhere to put one past your team with what maddeningly looks like the faintest of efforts. Off the pitch, he disappears equally suddenly. He vanishes from the frantic football world with its familiar trappings into what seems like a private parallel universe, a place strangely devoid of long-legged models, shiny cars, drunken binges or controversial quotes. And it's never been any different.

In 2002, only Ronaldo scored more goals at the World Cup than Miroslav Klose. Yet none of the German writers covering the national side's unexpected triumphs in Asia would have called the Kaiserslautern striker one of the stars of the tournament.

Heck, he wasn't even a star in his own team and reminded the Munich-based 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' of 'a chick that has fallen from the nest'. The paper added: 'His uneasiness at being the centre of attention and the internal distance his keeps from all his fellow men, even from his supporters in the fan stand, are almost palpable.' Indeed.

In 2002, Klose still spoke in what amounted to a half-whisper which was so difficult to follow that your best chance as a writer was to read his lips. And that despite the fact he was not a rosy-cheeked teenager but a man of 24 years, an age at which you are considered an experienced, debonair man in his line of business.

Yet Klose's monumental shyness was really only natural. For one, he had been uprooted as a boy when his parents moved from their - and his - native Poland to Germany, settling in a small town near Kaiserslautern. Eight-year-old Miroslav hardly spoke German which is why he was put into a beginner's class at school with kids who were out of his age group - and whom he couldn't understand.

Many who know him well say that those difficult early months and years left their mark on him, accounting for his feeling uncomfortable around people he is not familiar with.

Second, his rise to sporting fame had been as abrupt and unexpected as his being plunged from one country into another. Even though Klose clearly had talent (and the genes: his father was a football pro, his mother a Polish handball international), it went unnoticed. As in: utterly, completely, totally.

When born goal scorers are 19 years old, they drive Prosches, date TV presenters and have their agent talk to representatives of Barcelona. When Klose was 19 years old, he was training to be a carpenter and playing amateur football for club so tiny it carried a hyphenated name (SG Blaubach-Diedelkopf). In the seventh division.

A late bloomer, one might say. But how late can you bloom, really? At 20, Klose was playing for a bigger club, Homburg, but only in the second team and the fifth division. At 21, he finally played for the club he used to support from the stands, Kaiserslautern.

But again Klose was put into the reserve side, known as the 'amateur team' in Germany, which competed in the multi-tiered third division. You can't help but wonder if perhaps he was subconsciously still trying to avoid attention, doing his best to not get noticed too much.

But wait. How can this picture of Klose, restraint personified, account for his flamboyant trademark, the somersault with which he used to celebrate his goals and which was first seen in the Bundesliga in late 2000, when at long last Klose broke through? Well, that's another typical Klose story because he got teased and then diligently worked without anyone noticing.

In youth football, he had team-mate called Michael Awe, who went airborne whenever he scored. 'He knew very well I couldn't do that, so he kept on about it,' says Klose. 'I bet him 20 Marks that if I'd ever play professionally, I'd celebrate a goal with a somersault.'

And then he went to the small gym in his hometown Kusel and practiced the trick patiently. As we've seen, he had to wait more than just a few years until he was given the chance to win his bet. But when it finally came he took it. And pocketed 20 Marks.

If you want to succeed in your job without getting into the limelight, football is not an ideal line of work. But Klose has managed to avoid the media glare because he was given a few lucky breaks during his career.

When glamorous Bayern first put out their feelers for him, after the 2002 World Cup, he suddenly stopped scoring and any interest quickly cooled. (No more psychology from me, I just mention this.) And perhaps Klose would have stayed forever in his quasi-isolation in Kaiserslautern, in a corner of the country, Palatinate, so remote that some Germans call it 'Siberia'. But then his club ran into financial problems.

The state-controlled lottery company loaned Kaiserslautern 5m Euros in return for the transfer rights to Klose and when the time came to pay up, the striker was sold to Bremen - another club that, despite its standing, is basically provincial and run like a family business. The chick was back in some sort of nest and blossomed, scoring 53 goals in 89 league games for Werder.

Well, and then, at last, Bayern Munich. What at first looked like a match made in hell has worked out better than some observers expected precisely because Bayern is such Hollywood-esque place.

Klose scored eight goals in his first seven league games for Bayern - and then merely two more during the following eight months. But this dramatic dip in form never became much of an issue, because all eyes were on the stylish Luca Toni or on Oliver Kahn's farewell tour on the circus acts of Franck Ribéry. Klose, who even stopped doing the somersault, was left alone and not asked any questions. He most certainly didn't mind.

During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, for instance, he sometimes found himself dragged in front of the world's assembled media because under FIFA rules a player had to be available at the official press conferences. Later on those days, the host of a well-known German comedy-cum-late night show would tell his viewers 'And now let's hear the essential bits from the latest Miroslav Klose interview!'

This would be followed by an edited, sixty-second clip consisting of a few choice obviouslys and naturallys, then nothing but countless ers and hmms.

It was quite funny, but also terribly pointless. We knew Klose wouldn't say anything of substance. And he didn't have to. No player scored more goals at this World Cup than he did.

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