Miroslav Klose’s remarkable rise from a provincial German club to the second-most prolific scorer in FIFA World Cup history is a tale that may never be matched.
Klose made his debut for Germany in 2001 without ever having played for any of its junior teams, something that is unlikely to happen again because prospects these days are honed through youth academies and groomed in camps for different age groups.
Klose was born in Poland, but moved to Germany with his parents when he was 6. On Saturday, he turns 34 on the day Germany kicks off their Euro 2012 campaign against Portugal.
“Three points would be the best present I could get,” Klose said on Tuesday, one day after arriving in his land of birth with the team he now represents.
Too bad that the match is in neighboring Ukraine and not in Poland, where Klose would be assured of a warm reception.
Klose and Lukas Podolski, the other Poland-born Germany forward, were given a rousing welcome on Monday when Die Mannschaft staged an open training session only hours after arriving in Gdansk and drawing more than 10,000 fans.
The perception in Germany is that Podolski is more popular in Poland than Klose, although both speak Polish and maintain close ties to the country.
“I don’t know where this came from, possibly a quote or two were taken out of context, misunderstood. I love this land like I love Germany,” Klose said. “I was born here. I have family here.”
“We were very warmly received yesterday at the training even though it was arranged at the last moment,” the striker said.
Klose and Podolski were still signing autographs long after the other Germany players had climbed into the bus.
Klose has recalled how his early days in Germany were difficult without speaking the language. However, the kids quickly recognized that “Miro” could play soccer and he was the first to be chosen for pickup games. Soon enough, he was the first in his family to speak German fluently.
With his mother a handball player and father also a soccer player, Klose had genes to succeed and he eventually began playing for Kaiserslautern.
He moved to Werder Bremen in 2004 and later to Bayern Munich, before heading to SS Lazio in Rome, where he has just finished his first season. Klose is about to play at his third European Championship.
If Germany might have been a culture shock for someone coming from then-communist Poland, Italy also was not without surprises — particularly when Klose’s postman turned out to be a Lazio fan who kissed Klose’s feet after he had scored the winner against Serie A rivals AS Roma.
Such adulation is unlikely in Germany, but Klose will be celebrated as a hero if he scores again to help Germany win their first title since Euro 1996.
With 63 goals in 116 games for Germany, Klose is five behind Gerd Mueller. He has already pulled level with Mueller on 14 World Cup goals in three tournaments, one behind Brazil striker Ronaldo.
Germany coach Joachim Loew prefers using one striker and Klose is his man, although Mario Gomez keeps finding the target for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. However, Loew thinks Klose has better playing skills and sees Gomez more as a big man limited to the penalty box.
An ankle injury and back problems cut short Klose’s Lazio season and the striker was unable to practice fully until a few days ago.
“I don’t think I was ever 100 percent at a major tournament, but I am now at a point where I wanted to be,” Klose said. “At nearly 34, the back hurts a bit, I have to do a little extra before and after each training, a little more stretching, otherwise I feel sluggish.”
On Saturday, Klose will first put on his right shoe and make the first step on the field with his right foot, his normal routine.
After the match, it will be an ice bath for those aging bones and muscles.
“I don’t know if my legs will still be carrying me, but the 2014 World Cup [in Brazil] remains in my sights,” Klose said.
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