The most successful No. 9

In an age of club allegiances trumping national ones, where the younger generation associates a player more readily with a club than the country, Miroslav Klose is rare. He announces himself to the world once every four years during the World Cup, writes N. Sudarshan.

When Gonzalo Higuain scored the winner in Argentina’s World Cup quarterfinal against Belgium, it brought back many memories. It was a brilliant instinctive finish by a classic No. 9.

Sadly, these No. 9s are a dying breed. The impetus on modern day footballers is to be multi-skilled. Just like how a full-back must overlap and a midfielder should track back and provide defensive cover, a No. 9 is no longer just a goal-poacher.

As former England striker Alan Shearer said in a recent discussion on BBC: “If there is a number nine like me in the team, then he is now the guy being asked to create space for the number 10, to hold the ball up for him and bring him into play in the opposition half, and to give him the chances to score.”

Standing tall in these times is Miroslav Klose, a member of the World Cup winning German team and a veteran of four World Cups and more importantly the man who has just overtaken the Brazilian great Ronaldo’s tally of 15 World Cup goals. His achievement was lost in the din of the 7-1 demolition of Brazil by Germany. Most of the focus was on Brazilian ineptitude, some on German dominance and close to none on Klose. Once the dust settled, the feat stood out.

In an age of club allegiances trumping national ones, where the younger generation associates a player more readily with a club than the country, Klose is rare. He announces himself to the world once every four years. Not many bother what he does in between.

His 16-year club career has yielded just two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup and a Coppa Italia. But for Germany, he is the all-time top-scorer (71 goals), most capped player behind Lothar Matthaus, one of three to score at four World Cups along with Pele and West Germany’s Uwe Seeler, and the only one to score at least four goals in three World Cups: 2002 (5 goals), 2006 (5), 2010 (4) .

Stardom too did not touch Klose early. After moving to Germany from Communist Poland, equipped with all of two words in German, he was initially in the Hamburg reserve team and then spent five nondescript years with Kaiserslautern.

He did go on to play for Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich later, but he wasn’t — and still isn’t — even the best player in his own team. To be fair, he comes nowhere close to either the present greats in Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar or the past ones in Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Zinedine Zidane. He isn’t quick and rarely beats men. It can be argued that his only bit of flair is the front-flip celebration which follows each goal.

Yet his worth in Germany is measured in gold. He is perennially at the right place at the right time. The national side has never lost when the 36-year-old has been on the score sheet. The 16 World Cup goals — none of which have come from outside the penalty area, a sign not of his inadequacy, but of his positional superiority — have directly contributed in Germany reaching a record-breaking four consecutive World Cup semi-finals.

“It is something really great for (Miroslav) Klose,” said Germany manager Joachim Loew of the goal-scoring record. “It wasn’t just a sensational performance. It’s much more than that. At his age he’s still playing at an extremely high level and is a big factor with the team.”

Klose first shot to prominence in the early 2000s when the No.9s were still sought after. It was also a time when the German team was touted the worst ever. Now, after more than a decade, false No. 9s rule the roost and the current team is said to be Germany’s best ever. Klose is a bridge between these two eras.