One hundred thirty-seven caps. Seventy-one goals. Six major international semifinals in seven opportunities. A record 16 World Cup goals. And finally, one World Cup title. These are the staggering figures that best describe Miroslav Klose's career as a Germany international, which came to an end on Monday.
Many great strikers have entered and exited the world of international football since the turn of the millennium: Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Raul, David Villa, Didier Drogba and Andriy Shevchenko, to name a few. But none of the aforementioned can claim to have had records on par with those of Klose.
Among European strikers in the modern era, he stands alone.
Klose is a rare breed of footballer, one who always put country ahead of all other endeavors. Many have joked that he is the only player in football history to have retired at club level in order to focus on his international career; others have postulated that the DFB (German F.A.) should consider keeping him cryogenically frozen so he can participate in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and beyond.
More seriously, in an age in which sponsorship and media hype have blown many egos out of proportion, Klose was always the kind to quietly do his part—both the overtly heroic and the thankless tasks. Where many aim to score goals for the sake of goals, Klose always had a switch he could turn on so that when he scored, it mattered. In fact, just over a fifth (15) of his 71 international goals came in friendlies, a statistic that is bettered by his World Cup goals tally.
The 2000s were some tough years for German football. The Nationalmannschaft underwent some big structural changes, but it was not until around 2010 that these adjustments began to really take effect. For most of his international career, Klose had rather limited support from midfield. But when he had his chances he often took them.
Consider, for instance, the header that forced extra time against Argentina at the 2006 World Cup, or his back-to-back goals against Portugal and Turkey in the quarter- and semifinals of Euro 2008. Germany didn't win either tournament, but much of the credit for the Nationalmannschaft placing third in the 2006 tournament and finishing runners-up in 2008 can be attributed to their star striker.
When he wasn't scoring, Klose was creating opportunities for his teammates either with his passing or movement. He had a knack for goals that always kept him ahead of Mario Gomez, who even despite his occasional prolificacy for Germany, never held a starting role at striker for more than a couple games.
Whereas Gomez's exceptional instincts applied solely to him scoring goals, Klose had the ability to pull center-backs out of position and make quick passes to set up runners from the midfield. His involvement in Germany's first two goals against England in the 2010 World Cup round of 16 is exemplary of the range of his skills.
Unlike so many in today's game, Klose understood his limits and never outlived his welcome in the German team. When he opted to stay with the team after the 2010 World Cup, it was a risk. Two more years would see him turn 34 before he kicked a ball at Euro 2012. Yet he had a part to play in that tournament; he replaced Gomez despite the then-Bayern man having scored three goals in the group stage.
Two years later still, at the age of 36, Klose proved he still had something left in the tank. Even in his advanced years, he scored two goals at the 2014 World Cup. His equalizer against Ghana was crucial to maintaining morale for Germany in the group stage, while his second of the tournament was dramatic in a different way: With his right-footed finish, he surpassed Ronaldo's record for career World Cup goals while facing O Fenomeno's Brazil team in the same stadium in which his predecessor began his career.
Klose didn't decide the 2014 World Cup final, but he played his final international match in a fitting way. Slower than he once was and lacking fitness, he nonetheless lasting 88 minutes (his longest outing of the tournament by a mile) before being substituted. The living legend finally passed the torch on to Mario Gotze, who scored the winner.
Few players have the opportunity to retire with a World Cup victory in their final game, and Klose is truly privileged. But his honor is one that is fully deserved.
Germany and international football as an institution will surely miss him.