He might be the least celebrated soccer legend of all time, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Even though World Cup coverage is everywhere these days, and even though he plays for one of the most prominent national teams in the world, 36 year old Polish-born German striker Miroslav Klose gets about as little attention in the United States as possible, considering he is tied for the all time record for World Cup goals.
Klose’s recent goal as a sub in the 2-2 draw between Germany and Ghana was his 15th, tying him with Brazilian legend Ronaldo. He also has a few more achievements and oddities to his name. He won the Golden Boot for most goals at the 2006 World Cup. He is one of only two players to have scored five goals at two different World Cups. He is the only player to have scored four goals at three different World Cups. He is one of only three players to have scored at four different World Cups. He recently passed Gerd Muller as the all time top scorer for the German national team. He once scored five goals in a game while playing in the Italian Serie A. He was the 2006 German footballer of the year.
His record tying goal came on Ronaldo’s home soil against Ghana, while Ronaldo’s 15th goal had come on German soil against Ghana. Klose’s career smacks of “chosen one” status, and he seems to simply be the type of player who rises to the occasion on the biggest stage. In this way, he is very similar to Landon Donovan, and stands as a primary argument for why Donovan perhaps should have been included on the 2014 U.S. roster — some fellas just show up. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the German national team has never lost a game when Klose has scored one of his 70 international goals.
So why the hell haven’t Americans heard of him?
In my view, this is the result of two specific factors. The first factor is the American obsession with winning. Klose’s teams have been successful at the club level, primarily during his time at Bayern Munich (two Bundesliga titles), but over the course of his long career, he has not amassed a huge trophy case at the club level. More importantly for American fandom purposes, although Germany is always a contender at major international tournaments, it has not actually won one since the 1996 UEFA Cup, and has not won a World Cup since 1990. Instead, the 21st century has been a string of close calls and disappointments for the German side — sprinkled around major UEFA disappointments in 2000 and 2004 were a World Cup second place finish in 2002 and third place finishes in 2006 and 2010. The victorious Spanish team of 2010 and Brazilian side of 2002, not to mention the victorious Italians and Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry from 2006 second place France, all boasted household names in the U.S. The solid but not transcendent German squad simply has not touched the American cultural zeitgeist in the same way.
Second, and more importantly, Klose is famous in Europe for being shy and understated, the very antithesis of the type of athlete who is so often hounded with microphones in the American press rooms. While a Lance Stephenson or a Chad Ochocinco can garner significant fame without significant accomplishments, athletes with softer personalities often receive proportionately less attention in relation to their successes. In this regard, Klose is to Cristiano Ronaldo (who has enjoyed significantly less international success) as Tim Duncan is to Kobe Bryant.1
Klose has obviously gotten massive attention in the Bundesliga and the rest of soccer-mad Europe, but his fame has not translated to the States even to the extent of his younger and less accomplished German contemporaries like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, and Philip Lahm. His personality is certainly part of the puzzle.
Should the Germans hold form and win the 2014 Cup, Klose is likely to be elevated to a higher profile by an increasingly soccer-hungry American public. However, unless he has a starring role, the new spotlight might be too late to properly shine on his exploits which were at their peak in his 2002-2010 run. Somehow, it seems that Klose will not mind.
At least he has probably overtaken the NHL’s Satan as the most famous Miroslav…
- Klose is also preceded by his reputation as a kind and fair competitor, unlike many headline-swallowing American athletes. On different occasions, Klose has refused a penalty kick he deemed to have been incorrectly granted, and admitted to having scored by way of a hand ball (after which the referee shook his hand).