BERLIN (Reuters) - Miroslav Klose rarely did things the easy way but was rewarded for his dogged determination with one of the most remarkable careers in world football.
A World Cup winner and the tournament’s all-time record scorer with 16 goals, the Polish-born forward was one of the most versatile strikers of his generation, unbeatable in the air but equally clinical with the ball at his feet inside the box.
Yet he almost did not make it to the professional game and was the only member of the 2014 World Cup winning team not to have gone through the German Football Association’s youth system.
The son of Polish parents with German ancestry who arrived in the country in 1985, Klose played for regional amateur clubs while training to become a carpenter.
He was finally plucked from the amateurs and got his breakthrough in the Bundesliga with Kaiserslautern in 2000 at the age of 22.
He went on to have a successful Bundesliga career that also included spells at Werder Bremen (2004-2007) and Bayern Munich (2007-2011) playing 307 matches and scoring 121 goals, while also winning domestic silverware.
His sensational aerial timing and finishing earned him his first international cap in 2001 while his sense of fair play earned him widespread respect.
“I cannot imagine someone with my career these days,” Klose said following his retirement in 2016. “There are now so many scouts ... that I do not think that talented players can really fall through the cracks any more.”
Klose, currently assistant coach at Bayern, finished his club career with five years at Lazio in Italy between 2011-16.
A prolific goalscorer at every club, his greatest achievements came with the German national team for whom he is the all-time top scorer with 71 goals in 137 matches.
“I will play as long as I can carry my cadaver across the pitch,” Klose, then aged 32, said after Germany finished third for the second successive World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, with retirement in sight.
The softly-spoken striker had again missed out on a major international title, having also lost the 2002 World Cup final and finished runners-up at the 2008 European Championship.
However, he decided to give it another go, setting his sights on making the team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Klose switched from Bayern to Lazio for more regular playing time and the gamble paid off.
He scored his 71st and final goal for Germany in their historic 7-1 demolition of hosts Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final to overtake Brazilian Ronaldo as the tournament’s all-time top scorer.
Days later he lifted that elusive World Cup trophy into the evening sky in Rio de Janeiro to crown one of the game’s most remarkable careers that almost did not happen.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis