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?

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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.

Top goal scorers (at least 10 goals)in the FIFA World Cup
Top goal scorers (at least 10 goals)in the FIFA World Cup

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).

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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?”

Müller vsRobben in last few years
Müller vs Robben in last few years

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?

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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!

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Goalden Times top few moments from World Cup 2014

Every World Cup brings in some unique moments. Some just fade away with time, some gets engraved in the football lovers’ memory forever. Subhashis Biswas from GT handpicks 11 best moments of World Cup 2014.

11. Guillermo Ochoa’s goalkeeping

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During the second group match of the World Cup against Brazil, the world suddenly took notice of the long curly-haired head-band wearing Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. He saved a Neymar header when the ball was about to enter the goal, by flying to his right, ala Gordon Banks in 1970. He then saved a David Luiz header from point blank range in the second half, by sheer reflex. He again saved a shot from Hulk which had a goal written all over it. The ball did not enter the goal. Brazil were held to a 0-0 draw with Mexico largely due to Ochoa. Ochoa’s heroics continued in the next match against Croatia as well, and he denied Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric from scoring as Mexico won 3-1 to enter the round of 16. In that match against Netherlands, Mexico was 1-0 up against Netherlands till the 87th minute. Ochoa again saved two close range efforts from the Dutch offense line, and one of the saves were as incredible as it can get, with pure reflex denying the Dutch a sure shot goal. . Finally a Wesley Sneijder thunder and an Arjen Robben theatrics denied Mexico further progress in the World Cup, but Guillermo Ochoa, the ex-AJ Ajaccio goalkeeper, now free agent at that, had won many hearts and applauds for his performances in the World Cup. Big clubs are already lining up to get the signature of this keeper on the dotted line.

10. Flying RVP

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In their first group match, Spain was up 1-0 in the match, via a controversially awarded Xabi Alonso penalty following which Diego Costa went down in the box after minimal contact. Netherlands was desperate for an equaliser. Just before the halftime, in the 44th minute, left wing back Dale Blind received a ball near the centre line, towards left side of the pitch. He quickly noticed an advancing Robin van Persie near the Spanish penalty area, with three defenders backtracking towards their goal. Blind delivered a perfect left-footed cross, which took a parabolic trajectory and was going towards the Spanish penalty area. van Persie realised he was a little behind the ball, and also realised that Iker Casillas was way off his goal line. He threw his body in front, as if he was taking off to fly, and headed the cross with his body a good 2-3 feet above the ground, in a flying position. The header exploited the gap Casillas had left behind him and the ball looped inside the Spanish goal leaving the goalkeeper hopelessly stranded. The flying picture position of Robin van Persie was symbolic as it signalled the taking off of the Dutch Wrld Cup campaign (they won the match 5-1, and eventually finished 3rd in the World Cup

9. Spain’s disastrous campaign and early exit

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The signs were evident in last year’s Confederations Cup. Yet victories in the qualifying campaign forced Vincente del Bosque in denial mode. But the shortcomings of Spain finally got brutally exposed in the final round. Spain ruled the world of football for 6 six years winning everything wthat was there to be won – . 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. They were drawn in a tough group with Netherlands, Chile and Australia, but pundits expected them to win the group. Little did they expect that an ageing midfield, ineffective defence and nonexistent forward line would be unable to put up even a fight against the Dutch and Chile. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets can no longer execute the “tiki-taka” brand of football with perfection they used to do around three years ago. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were never on the same page when an attack came towards Spanish defence. Add the embarrassment of Iker Casillas to this. The legendary goalkeeper, winner of several accolades in his illustrious career, was literally scrambling in kneel-down position inside the penalty area for most of the time against Netherlands and Chile. He conceded seven goals in two matches (in 1-5 loss to Netherlands and 0-2 defeat against Chile), and Spain exited the World Cup just after 180 minutes of football. The future, though, is bright for Spain with a lot of young talents like Ilaramendi, Isco, Thiago Alacantara, David de Gea, waiting in the ranks. But first, the football association has to get out of their self-denial mode.

8. Tim Howard’s heroics

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USA always comes up with a fighting and spirited display in the World Cup . This time around, it was no exception. They were grouped with eventual winner Germany, always dangerous Portugal, and last edition’s quarter finalists Ghana in Group G. They emerged from that group with four points, defeating Ghana 2-1, sharing spoils with Portugal 2-2, and losing to Germany 0-1. Their inspirational goalkeeper, Everton’s Tim Howard was the mainstay as the last line of defence, making some incredible saves during the group stage, especially against an attacking Portugal side and eventual champions Germany. But Tim Howard’s heroics scaled a different level in the round of 16 match against Belgium. He denied Divock Origi several times; including a fist to clear a thunderous 20-yard drive by the striker. He denied his Everton colleague Kevin Mirallas with his feet in the 76th minute. Vincent Kompany then headed in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross goalwards but Howard’s heroics again denied him. These are just glimpses of Tim Howard’s monumental performance that day. He marshalled the whole defence, and took the game to extra time, only to succumb to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. He made an incredible total of 16 saves – an all time record for the World Cup in recorded matches (since 1966) – , many of which would have been goals with any other goalkeeper on any other day. USA bowed out losing 1-2, but Tim Howard’s performance will remain as one of the greatest performances by a goalkeeper in a World Cup match.

7. Chile fans stormed media center

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Chile faced Spain in Estadio Maracana on 18th of June in their second group match, with Chile having a chance to qualify for the next round with a win and knocking Spain out of the World Cup. But chaos is an understatement to what had happened just before the match. About 100 Chilean fans, without tickets to the match, and wearing replica Chile jerseys, broke into the media center inside the Maracana stadium. The fans ran through the media center, then broke a glass door, and took out temporary doors, partitions, TV sets – whatever came their way. Some of the fans started taking photos with their mobile phones as if it was a moment to savour for life!. A group of fans were shouting slogans and flaunting posters. The part of media center was not heavily guarded, and the fans got a free passage, and almost were in the hallway which lead to the field and locker room. The chaos lasted for about 20 minutes before the security personnel cordoned the area and forced about 85 fans to sit in front of a wall. Most of these personnels were later deported from the country within 72 hours. Chilean fans accused FIFA of making the ticket price high in Chile, and selling tickets illegally. According to them, all Chileans should be allowed to enter inside the stadium during a “Chile match” !

6. Klose world record

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This was his fourth World Cup. Miroslav Klose had already scored five goals each in 2002 and 2006, and four goals in 2010. He needed two more goals in 2014 edition to surpass Ronaldo as all time leading scorer in World Cups. Germany heavily relied on their midfield in this edition of the Cup, with Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil providing the attacking threat upfront. Klose, therefore, was not the main target man, according to Joaechim Loew’s plans. He was an unused substitute in the first match against Portugal, where Muller stole the limelight with a hattrick. Klose came in as substitute for Mario Goetze as Germany was trailing 1-2 to Ghana in their second group match (only time Germany trailed in the whole tournament). Within two minutes of coming in, he tapped in from close range after a corner, to equalise the score at 2-2. Having equalled the goals tally on 15 with Ronaldo,. Klose had to wait till the semifinal match-up against Brazil to score again. Germany routed Brazil 7-1 in that match. Klose scored the second goal for Germany in the 23rd minute in a 7-1 rout. Brazil’s meltdown stole all the limelight , but the silent assassin had done enough to register himself permanently in the World Cup history books.

5. Neymar’s fracture

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The game between Brazil and Colombia in the round of 16 was not for the purists a clean one. Total 54 fouls were committed. Brazil started the brutality with a series of fouls on Colombian youngster James Rodriguez – and ended that match with a staggering 31 fouls — the highest in a World Cup match since they were recorded from1966 – and slowly Colombian defenders and midfielders started to return the favour . Defender Juan Zuniga was probably the most hostile of them all. He committed a foul on Hulk in the first half which should have resulted in a yellow card. But the defining moment came on the 87th minute of the match. Brazil was winning 2-1, and Colombia was in search of an equaliser. An aerial ball came towards Neymar, and Zuniga was just behind him. Before Neymar could reach the ball, Zuniga leap-frogged over Neymar’s shoulder and tried to reach the ball. In the process, Zuniga’s knee collided fiercely with Neymar’s back. Immediately the poster boy of Brazilian football fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Medical help arrived, assessed the seriousness of the injury, and stretchered him off immediately to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed that there is a fracture at the transverse process below third lumbar vertebra, which means the fracture is at the spinal cord ! Had it been a couple of inches lower, Neymar could have been paralyzed for life. The fracture did not require surgery, but needed rest and minimal movement for recovery. Neymar was out of the World Cup, and so was Brazil, a match later, against Germany in the semi-final. Neymar lying on the ground, writhing in pain, became symbolic with Brazil’s exodus from the cup of their dreams.

4. The viral image of David Luiz cheering up James

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Brazil faced Colombia in the quarter final, with one James Rodriguez hogging as much limelight as Neymar Junior before the match. James Rodriguez had scored five goals in four matches prior to the QF match, with a brace against Uruguay in the round of 16 match. His dazzling runs, dribbles, quick passing, left footed volleys and intelligent positioning had impressed football lovers around the world, and a tough match was on the cards against the Brazilians. Brazil did not give him much space though,; with Fernandinho and Marcello marking him tight during the match, Rodriguez was at the receiving end of many fouls committed by Brazil. Brazil took an early lead via Thiago Silva from the corner, and David Luiz doubled the lead via a free kick in the 2nd half. Rodriguez scored his sixth goal (and would eventually win the Golden Boot) via a penalty in the dying minutes of the match, but Colombia lost 1-2 to bow out of the tournament. Colombia won many hearts through their display of attractive skilful football. James Rodriguez cried inconsolably after the match, as the dream of a budding youngster was shattered by the host nation. David Luiz then walked up to embrace Rodriguez, exchanged jerseys with him, and pointed towards him and encouraged the crowd to appreciate the efforts of this sensational young player. The image of Luiz pointing towards Rodriguez went viral across social and print media, and became a symbol of affection and sportsman spirit during the World Cup.

3. Brazil’s fan handing cup to German fan

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Clovis Acosta Fernandes,the 58-year old man with the hat and moustache, as the whole world recognises him, has been to every World Cup since 1990 and many a Copa America, totalling to over 150 international matches. He travels with the Brazil team and this is his seventh World Cup, the first one at home. Clovis carried a replica trophy of the World Cup, which is almost exactly of the similar size of the original. Only difference according to him, was that his trophy was “kissed” much more times than the original. He is often known as Brazil’s 12th man.

He was in the stands at Belo Horizonte, on 8th of July during the semi-final between Brazil and Germany. He could not believe what was happening before his eyes. Germany won the match 7-1, leading 5-0 after only 30 minutes of football. The whole country was weeping, crying. Clovis was crying. Clovis hugged the trophy with tearful eyes, as if he did not want to let his dream evaporate and was instantly labelled the the Saddest Man in Brazil all over the international media. But this man has a golden heart. After the match, Clovis walked up to a lady, who was a German fan, , handed the trophy over to her, and said ”Take this trophy with you to Maracana. It is in good hands with you. Congratulations.“ His gesture won him admiration from across the world, and showed everyone that football is all about sportsman spirit and big heart.

2. Ghana cash convoy

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A series of three cars, flanked by five police cars- a convoy of total of eight cars were moving along the highway entering Brasilia, where Ghana was supposed to play Portugal in their last group match. The unusualness of this incident was that- those cars were carrying more than $3 million in cash! Yes, this was probably the only instance in World Cup history where the national federation of a country had to pay that large amount in cash to its players, that too in the face of an imminent threat to boycott just before they took the field in a World Cup match. According to their star player, Kevin- Prince Boateng, the preparation for the World Cup was a shambolic one. The Ghana team had to fly economy class on a a 12-hour flight, and stay in hotel rooms where the ceilings leaked and the rooms were flooded. The players were not paid their dues, and Ghana’s football federation did not use the money they received from FIFA for World Cup preparations. Immediately Boateng and fellow senior player Sulley Muntari were suspended and sent back home by Ghana Football Fedeartion. Ghana’s president John Mahama had to intervene and the “cash convoy” arrived in Brasilia, and the players then agreed to take the field against Portugal. Social media was flooded with the images of the cash convey arriving at the hotel with armed escort and defender John Boye kissing a stack of money after it arrived by armed escort. Apparently the players wanted the money in cash as most of them did not have even bank accounts back home! Ghana lost the match 1-2 and bowed out from the tournament with only 1 point. They were the only team not to be beaten by Germany though (2-2 draw), and only team who actually led eventual winner Germany during the World Cup.

1. Suarez Biting

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Italy and Uruguay – both the teams were on three points having defeated England and lost to Costa Rica ! The superior goal difference meant Italy needed a draw where Uruguay had to win the match to qualify for the next round. The match was never entertaining, as both the teams were really aggressive and frequent fouls stopped the game from gathering any momentum. . Claudio Marchisio was sent off in the 59th minute, and the Italians were fighting hard to hold off Uruguay for rest of the match. Around the 79th minute of the match, an off the ball incident left the world completely in shock. Luis Suarez had jumped on to Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, then covered his face with his palm and fell on ground. Chiellini was on the ground as well, but immediately got up, exposed his shoulder from his shirt and showed the bite mark to the referee. Suarez was sitting on the ground holding his teeth!! Referee did not punish Suarez, a bemused and shell shocked Italian team conceded from a corner through Diego Godin two minutes later, and had to go back home.

Suarez and Uruguay team tried to downplay the incident initially, but later, after criticism poured in from around the world, FIFA took the matter seriously. After investigation, FIFA handed a four-month and nine- match ban to Luis Suarez. Uruguay lost to Colombia 0-2 in the round of 16 match and bowed out of the competition.