Miroslav Klose and Thomas Muller – Conjoined Twins
Two great servants of the German national football team, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Müller, had and is having – respectively – fabulous careers. But, somewhere down the line, these two modern greats, in spite of being a generation apart, share some uncanny similarities. Debojyoti Chakraborty pens down a unique tale of Conjoined Twins here at Goalden Times.
What comes to your mind when one mentions the name of Miroslav Klose? A decent forward, known for his prowess with his head in the World Cups. Anything else? Ok, a smaller set might acknowledge the fact that he is the top goal scorer in the World Cup history. Next? An even smaller set would point out that he is also the all time top scorer for Germany. Not bad, is it? And whose records did he break to achieve these feats? Ronaldo of Brazil, and Gerd Müller of (West) Germany – two greats intheir own rights. Now think about Klose, the person who currently holds both of these amazing records on his own. Does he even get an iota of the recognition that he deserves?
Klose was an old school number 9 for the German national team. He is the only footballer in the history of World Cup to have four podium finishes including the 2014 winner’s medal. En route he has netted 16 times. Come to think of it, many would be in dreamland after scoring only once at the biggest of the stages, and this lanky fellow has done that 16 times!!! Time and again, with ease, in a World Cup career spanning across 12 years and four editions. Klose is also the lucky charm for Die Mannschaft – they have never lost a game in which Klose has scored.
Klose has achieved the feat in way more matches compared to others featuring in the top goal scorers’ list above (* = the player was in the squad but did not feature in the edition). But can we really compare two separate eras? How can one conclusively take into account the style of play (which was more open in the pre-war days till the ‘70s), different rules and regulations (fouls, suspensions, substitutions and offsides to name a few) and other variables and compare these greats? One can also put the counter argument in favour of Klose. If anything, his perseverance – he is the only one to take the field on four editions – should place him right up there in the list. His adaptability to fit into different systems under different managers and among diverse sets of colleagues is truly remarkable. Give the man some credit where it is due! By the way, have a look at the last man on the list, Thomas Müller, more about him will be discussed later.
Klose has never been an out-an-out fan favourite, some attribute this to his lack of style. But does not he make up for that with the most important aspect in football – goals? Not sporadically ,rather in a consistent pattern,netting when his team is in an awkward position. How can a man, who has scored for fun in the biggest stage of all, lack the entertaining factor? And talking about style, apart from his trademark somersault celebration, very few have embraced the actual essence of the beautiful game. In the modern age of competitiveness and playacting, where an honest player is very hard to come by on the football field, Klose’s act of unselfishness stands out and proves the beauty of the game. While playing for Werder Bremen in 2005, in a Bundesliga match against Arminia Bielefeld, the referee thought that Klose was fouled inside the opponent penalty box and hence awarded a penalty kick to Bremen. Klose walked up to the referee, and clarified that it was a clean take by the goalkeeper. It allowed the referee to reverse both of his decisions – the penalty as well as the booking of the goalkeeper. Then again in 2012, he had the guts to admit his handball that had eventually led to a goal. The referee cancelled the goal following his confession, Klose’s team Lazio lost the SerieA match 3-0 against Napoli on that day but surely football had won. The German became an instant hero – actually he already was – among everyone present in the stadium as well as all around the world for his honesty. Later that year, Klose was rewarded with a fair play award from the German FA. No wonder, he has always been admired by his fellow players.
Klose retired from Germany’s national team on 11th August 2014. Towards the end of his career, he saw the rise of a young talent who would go on to emulate some of his successes – Thomas Müller.
Müller, a small town boy from Pähl, slowly but surely has established himself as one of the key performers in the deadly Bayern Munich side. Ironically, , Müller made his debut for the club in 2008 in a Bundesliga match against Hamburger SV, coming in off the bench for Klose.
Müller started his career primarily as a midfielder but eventually he has been deployed in more advanced positions. Today, he is regarded as one of the best attacking all-rounders, a player who can be used in a variety of forward positions. While this has opened up more opportunities for the player and his managers, the same quality sometimes hinders his rise to the optimal greatness. Müller is typecast as Jack of all trades, whereas he could have been – actually, with age on his side, he is only 26, he still can be – the Master. Both at Bayern Munich and in the Germany national team, who usually play with the favourite modern formation of 4-2-3-1, Müller is deployed as one the three attacking midfielders behind the lone striker. His versatility with both feet, creativity, vision, running into spaces, passing and ball distribution skills mean that he can play in any of the attacking midfield roles. So he is seen playing more centrally for Bayern Munich, sometimes even as a secondary striker, but on the right side for Germany, either as a right winger or right attacking midfielder. Even after that, Müller has 10 World Cup goals, more than combined figures of two of the best players of the current generations – Lionel Messi(5) and Cristiano Ronaldo(3).
He admits that he is not good at taking on the defenders one-on-one or dribbling past them, but more than makes up for it by finding gaps in the opposition defence and making intelligent runs in the channels. No wonder, he interprets his role as Raumdeuter, meaning “interpreter of space”.
Müller is a modern day player coming out of the mighty Bayern youth system with extraordinary maturity for his age. His composure, technique, opportunism,game awareness and positioning in the field augment his blistering pace. Add to that his mental strength and coolness in front of the goal, the end product is as deadly as it gets. Even after scoring and creating goals for fun, Müller is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses and areas where he can improve. He admits that he is not good at taking on the defenders one-on-one or dribbling past them, but more than makes up for it by finding gaps in the opposition defence and making intelligent runs in the channels. No wonder, he interprets his role as Raumdeuter, meaning “interpreter of space”. Germany manager Joachim Löw also seems to agree, “Müller is a very unorthodox player and you can’t really predict his lines of running, but he has one aim and that is ‘how can I score a goal?”
The figure above compares Müller with possibly the most talked about attacking player in his club, Arjen Robben. Please keep in mind that the years in the graphic, since 2009-10, puts up a naïve and young Müller against a seasoned campaigner Robben, playing at the peak of his prowess. Yet, Müller has quite clearly outclassed Robben in terms of goals scored and created count. Yet, Robben is considered arguably the most potent attacking threat in Bayern Munich’s arsenal, not Müller. Müller’s contributions are often termed as being “lucky”, being able to be present at the right place at the right time. This is why Müller is never considered a prime contender for Ballon d’Or – an award given based on “opinion” of national team coaches, captains and journalists worldwide. He is not even considered the best player in his club or team – Robben or Neuer often gets all the accolades. That too after bagging FIFA World Cup Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup Best Young Player award and FIFA World Cup Most assists recognition in 2010. That too after being featured in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, as well as in the FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2014. In the same world cup, he became the second German, and third overall (the other being Teófilo Cubillas during 1970 and 1978 editions) to score at least five goals in two different editions. Guess the only other German to do so! Yes, Miroslav Klose.
Miroslav Klose holds the record for scoring most number of goals in World Cup. Klose marvelled at the national stage at a time of transition for German football, where they rarely had a strong midfield to feed him. But did he get his due? Is he regarded as one of the best goal scorers of his generation at least, let alone of all time? Same is the case with Thomas Müller, the likely man to dethrone Klose in the near future. Both are extremely humble and can be showcased as brand ambassadors of fair play. But may be they lack the aura, the flamboyance, the showmanship – and any scandal or controversy – and hence are overlooked in favour of their peers. Müller is slightly more fortunate to be around in an age of social media and hence his name still goes around. But be it his club Bayern Munich or the German national team, Müller is always overshadowed by his more glamorous peers like Robert Lewandowski, Robben, Manuel Neuer or Mario Götze. People criticize Klose saying that all of his World Cup goals were scored from a distance of 12 yards or closer. But then again, Klose is a true reflection of his era, a typical no. 9, fox in the box striker akin to Filippo Inzaghi, Ronaldo or Ruud van Nistelrooy. No wonder, he has scored majority of his goals from inside the box. Similarly Müller is a modern day wide forward, with the responsibilities of a 9 and an a half – or sometimes 8 and a half. His fluid role demands him to drift wide, start from deep into his own half to create spaces as well as finish the chances when they come. So his goal per game ratio cannot be compared with that of an out and out striker. But even then, his overall contribution to his team as well as the end product – goals – are simply too good to be ignored. So the question remains, are these two the most underappreciated German footballers ever?
Let me end the article with a famous quote by ex-England international and current football pundit Gary Lineker: “Football is a simple game – 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end the Germans always win.” Both Klose and Müller, who resemble the tale of conjoined twins for being underrated in their respective eras, epitomize this killer instinct and winning mentality of Die Mannschaft. May be that is why they did not bother about their personal glorification. But who cares, after all, they have a combined cabinet full of trophies to be proud of. Underrated? Well, may be sometime in future, students of the beautiful game will applaud them with the appreciation they truly deserve. Even if not, Klose and Müller will hardly be bothered. They played the game in its right spirit, won everything there was to be won, what else can you ask for!