German former player Miroslav Klose sits in the stands during the 2017 Confederations Cup group B football match between Australia and Germany at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 19, 2017.
Patrik STOLLARZ / AFP
Miroslav Klose, the all-time top scorer at World Cup finals, is nurturing Germany’s latest crop of forwards — who all hope to emulate his goal-scoring prowess in the famous white shirt.
Germany face Mexico on Thursday in Sochi in the second semi-final of the Confederations Cup and Klose, now an assistant to coach Joachim Loew, has been passing on tips about how to unpick the Mexican defence.
Klose, 39, retired from international duty soon after helping Germany win the 2014 World Cup — he netted in the stunning 7-1 semi-final win over Brazil to claim the record of 16 goals at World Cup finals.
He bowed out of international football with a tally of 71 goals in 137 appearances and he played at four World Cups. He then joined Loew’s backroom staff last November as a forwards coach.
Since Klose retired, Loew has failed to settle on a permanent replacement with Mario Gomez, Thomas Mueller and Mario Goetze all having stints up front.
“The yardstick is still the absolute best in the world — Messi and Ronaldo,” said Loew in setting the bar high for his strikers before his inexperienced squad jetted to Russia. “Our players must test themselves against those names.”
Uncovering the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is a tall order, but Klose is delighted with how Germany’s next crop of strikers are seizing their chance in Russia with Gomez, Mueller and Goetze all left at home.
RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner netted twice in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Cameroon after replacing Lars Stindl, a box-to-box midfielder converted into a striker who scored against Australia and Chile in the other group matches.
Hoffenheim’s burly striker Sandro Wagner has also played well in Russia and Germany suddenly have an embarrassment of riches up front.
– Establishing pressure –
“I think it’s good they are putting established guys — Mario Gomez or Thomas Mueller — under a bit of pressure,” said Klose on his work with Stindl, Werner and Wagner.
“We talk together a lot and in terms of character, they have fulfilled everything that we could imagine of them.
“And you see the talent these players have, in that they can implement so much in such a short time. I think it’s fantastic.”
After Stindl scored a classic striker’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Chile, Klose enthused about the 28-year-old Borussia Moenchengladbach captain.
“He’s an incredibly clever player who moves well between the playing lines and looks for space,” said Klose. “He can hold the ball very well and shield it, so the other players can move forward.”
Likewise the 21-year-old Werner, who netted on Sunday with a crisp header and a well-taken shot after tireless work in the area against Cameroon, earned Klose’s praise. “He has the speed and dynamism to go deep. When I was his age, I had just finished my carpentry apprenticeship,” said Klose with a grin.
However, Klose says Stindl and Werner have a way to go before usurping Gomez, who has scored 30 goals in 70 internationals, from Germany’s first-choice side for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
“Of course, you can’t say they are already at the same level (as Gomez),” said Klose. “Mario has been consistent over the years, they still have a way to go.”
But it’s not just Germany’s forwards who are learning from the benefit of Klose’s vast experience. “He’s more than an assistant coach,” said Liverpool midfielder Emre Can.
“He talks a lot to the players. With his experience, he helps bring them on and there are a few things that I, as a midfielder, can learn from him.”