By Peter Staunton
Deep down, I don't think many people wanted Miroslav Klose to rein in Gerd Muller's goalscoring record for the Germany national team. Nor did they want him to overtake Ronaldo and become the highest World Cup scorer of all time.
But, the Lazio star did both of those things in 2014. After surpassing Muller in the June friendly win over Armenia, he struck twice at the Brazil finals to move past the ex-Inter and Real Madrid hero. He ended his incredible 13-year, 137-game Germany career by lifting the World Cup itself.
The general vibe about the intertemporal feud between Muller and Klose is that the former 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.
| Miroslav Klose
|CAPS: 137||GOALS: 71
| Gerd Muller
|CAPS: 62||GOALS: 68|
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 that 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 father 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 and his subsequent dethroning of Ronaldo with his strike against Brazil in the semi-finals 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 12 years.
But that he did, defiantly. He is one of only three players to have scored in four World Cups - the others being Uwe Seeler and Pele. Like him or not, he is a remnant of 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 prevented him falling out of Joachim Low's favour even with Stefan Kiessling banging on the door. He saw off another pretender, like he did with Mario Gomez. When there have been calls to put him to pasture, up he popped again. The only player to score four or more goals at three different World Cups, Germany never lost a match in which he scored and he was an integral part of their success story in Brazil this summer.
So, remember it's not about who is the better German goalscorer; Muller has proven beyond doubt that he is. It is not about who is the better World Cup player; Ronaldo clearly wins that battle. But credit where it's due. Klose shone brighter, for longer. And he has record after record - as well as the World Cup - to show for it.