Chasing Gerd Müller

Miroslav Klose is not only chasing the sands of time trying to regain fitness in time for the EUROs this summer following a season full of niggling injuries but he is also chasing history. The prolific striker is after something quite sacred in German football, namely Gerd Müller’s National Team goalscoring record. 40 years after hanging up his boots for Germany, Müller’s record 68 goals have yet to be surpassed. Lurking just behind him is a player with perhaps his last shot at doing the unthinkable and rewriting the record books.

Fittingly, Müller’s last goal for his country was also the winner in the 1974 World Cup final, after which he ended his eight year international career. Few, if any, players are likely to ever match his goals per game quota, his 68 goals remarkably coming in just 62 international appearances, but Klose is the first player who has a realistic chance of breaking his scoring record. The last man to attempt that was Jürgen Klinsmann but even he was 21 goals behind Müller in the end. Currently Klose is just five goals away from equaling Müller’s record. The holy grail is seemingly within his reach as he himself approaches the twilight of his career.

All this seemed unlikely just a decade ago.  Then Polish National Team coach Jerzy Engel personally traveled to Germany to try and persuade Klose to play for Poland but Klose was adamant about wanting to play for Germany and his goal scoring exploits for Kaiserslautern soon caught the eye of then National Team coach Rudi Völler.  Völler gave Klose his debut in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in March of 2001.  Klose came off the bench and scored Germany’s winner.  A little over a year later he exploded onto the international stage in Japan and South Korea.  The rest is history.

Gerd Müller’s goal scoring for Germany too started very early, his first goals for his country came in only his second appearance back in 1967.  And guess who Germany’s opponents were on that day? Indeed, it too was Albania. Unlike Klose though, Müller scored four in that game but their trajectories remained quite similar.  Three years later der Bomber scored an incredible 10 goals in 6 matches at the 1970 World Cup.  His combined World Cup record of 14 goals stood for 32 years until Brazil’s Ronaldo broke it in 2006.  Klose equalled Müller’s 14 goals two years ago in South Africa, one he’ll be hoping to break too eventually but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Klose will participate in his seventh major international tournament in Poland and the Ukraine this summer. He will celebrate his 34th birthday in Germany’s opening group stage game against Portugal on June 9th and by the end of the tournament he could well have set a new record. Despite trying to stay focused on the task at hand Klose is well aware of the weight of history on him and Müller’s record, “You’re not conscious of it all the time but obviously I’m always confronted by this magic number.”

Klose’s famous modesty and humility aside, it’s hard to believe how a player could not be preoccupied with the prospects of breaking such a monumental record and he himself admitted his desire to break it last year, “Now that I am so close naturally I want to move past him.” He isn’t the only gracious one here according to Klose, “I have already spoken to Gerd about it and he told me he wouldn’t be angry with me if I take away his record. He even told me he would be happy for me. In any case he will always be The Bomber and no one can take that away from him.”

Müller hung up his boots for Germany at 29 while almost half of Klose’s goals for Germany have been scored since he was that age. There lies a bit of discrepancy with Klose’s extended career obviously working in his favor but with a rough transition period over the last decade, Klose’s record is nevertheless nothing short of remarkable even if he fails to catch Müller in the end.

That said, Klose is, perhaps for the first time in his Germany career, facing stiff competition in the squad, namely from the in form Mario Gomez who enjoyed another prolific season with Bayern München.  There might even be added competition with the tactical prospect of Marco Reus up top. Added to that a prolonged recuperation process following his thigh strain and the odds don’t necessarily fall in Klose’s favor. Nevertheless, National Team coach Joachim Löw knows what he has in Klose, “Nobody knows his body better than Miro, so he can decide for himself how and when he trains. I’m sure we’ll see the Klose that we all know and love at the EUROs.”

Klose admitted to feeling better following Germany’s international friendly against Switzerland on Saturday but the performance indicated otherwise. In any case, for a man who nearly became a carpenter, Klose is not unfamiliar with unfavorable odds and it wouldn’t be the first time he surpassed people’s expectations.  Germany’s green kit this year is an homage to their memorable campaign in 1972, perhaps even more appropriate because Gerd Müller finished as the tournament’s top scorer. Perhaps it might just be the perfect coming together of events then for Miro to make history.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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