The Germanic Essentialism of Miroslav Klose

Like many (almost 5.8 million, it would seem) other Americans, I watched Germany’s group-stage match against Ghana lo so many weeks ago, and in so doing was treated to the spectacle of Miroslav Klose crashing home a flicked-on corner kick in the 71st minute to bring Die Mannschaft level.

Like perhaps most American soccer fans (or really, anyone who wasn’t a Kaiserslautern supporter), I had no idea who Miroslav Klose was until the 2002 World Cup, during which he scored five times (all on headers) to finish a joint-second with Rivaldo on the tournament scoring charts. That three of them came against lowly Saudi Arabia (whom Germany dismantled 8-0) seemed to cheapen the achievement, and I was anyway not predisposed to look favorably on German successes in general.* That he seemed to embody a grim, boring German side (alright, the front-flip celebrations weren’t grim, I’ll give you that) determined to out-tall its opponents, and one that had needed a Torsten Frings handball to survive the United States, was also another mark against him.

In the twelve years since then German soccer has evolved enormously, and they are emphatically now no longer a side whose triumphs seem to stem exclusively from iron discipline, stiff defending, and a Teutonically-derived expertise at finishing set pieces and crosses with headers. This development has (aside from being received with glee by otherwise non-invested fans of world football) been perceived by some as stemming from the actual de-Teutonization of the German team (e.g. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira), though your guess is as good as mine when it comes to explaining how players like Mario Gotze or Toni Kroos fit into this framework. And in fact, we should know by now that that kind of footballing essentialism is, from a social science perspective, pure bullshit – you can talk all you want about Brazil and “Jogo Bonito” and the rhythm of samba being in their blood, but the last time the Seleção showed up playing attractive, attacking soccer at an international tournament was sometime around 2006.**

But despite knowing all that, knowing that there is no such thing as immutable footballing identity, I watched the German poacher’s finish settle in the back of the Ghanaian net, and I thought: “There is something gloriously essentialist about Germany going down a goal, immediately bringing on Miroslav Klose, and having him score off a corner.” I just wish it had been a header.

*A healthy dose of Anglo-centric World War II-related literature as a child didn’t exactly discourage me from embracing an antipathy for “the dirty bosche” (my views have of course since changed!), though this wasn’t enough to stop me supporting Germany over Brazil in the final that year, largely informed by the genius of Oliver Kahn and Rivaldo’s deeply unappealing theatrics against Turkey
**Then all the Ro-somebody players got fat and bored and Adriano’s career went off a cliff and since then it’s been, like, a pair of outside backs (Maicon and Dani Alves) who’ve been the most Brazilian things about the Brazilian team