For better or worse, Bayer Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling has had his fair share of modest seasons. But as his goal-tally indicates, this year belongs to him. Twenty-three goals to date in the calendar year makes him the most prolific striker in the Bundesliga right now.
In addition, his team also appears to be the only one that can realistically overtake Bayern Munich in the race to the Meisterschale, as Leverkusen trail the Bavarians by 11 points. Quite the gap to overcome, yet it’s the closest compared to that of reigning champs Dortmund or Schalke.
That’s why there are more questions than answers surrounding the exclusion of the player with the most goals in the calendar year in Joachim Loew’s nationalelf. Kiessling remains undetected on Jogi’s radar of starting strikers, well behind Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez in the pecking order.
But Kiessling isn’t a man of many words. Calm and collected in his demeanour, Kiessling rarely expresses his dissatisfaction with those in authority. It’s not his style to engage in public feuds, but last month his frustration was slowly starting to spill over.
He admitted to Die Welt that he was irritated at being omitted and before dwelling on the negative for too long he added, “But I did read that Loew had noticed me.” Indeed he had. The day before the friendly against the Netherlands, Jogi made clear that he hasn’t ignored Kiessling’s efforts.
“Stefan Kiessling is an accurate striker. He hasn’t fallen into oblivion.”
Loew witnessed the type of damage the striker can cause first-hand. In late October he attended the Bayern Munich vs Bayer Leverkusen match, a game in which Kiessling provided his team with the lead in the first half, and ultimately putting an end to Bayern’s 8-game win streak.
But more importantly, the win lifted the curse of the club’s Bayern curse: Leverkusen hasn’t won in Munich since October 1989. This also wasn’t the first time the Leverkusen striker scored against Loew’s preferred world-class goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. According to Bundesliga.com, he’s already found the net five times against him.
Even the club’s sporting director and much admired former German international Rudi Voeller said, “…he must make it as difficult as possible through his great performance for Jogi not to select him.”
Yet, as to what more the player can do to make him part of the national team remains a puzzle. Kiessling is currently tied for first with ten goals in the Bundesliga. He’s also registered an impressive 60 shots and has one goal in four of his Europa League appearances. Last season he had 16 goals, but his best season so far was in 2009/2010 when he became the league’s runner-up with 21 goals, one behind former Wolfsburg forward and current Manchester City super-sub Edin Dzeko.
Kiessling’s ascendance dates back to 2006, when he became one of the country’s most lucrative transfers by moving from Nuremberg to Bayer Leverkusen. He appeared to have a dazzling international career ahead of him. At the age of 23 he made first appearance in a friendly against Denmark.
Since then his international trajectory hasn’t played out the way it was supposed to, with only six international caps. The last time he represented Germany was against Uruguay during the 2010 World Cup when he came on as a substitute.
Today, he hasn’t ruled out playing for his country but overcoming hurdles isn’t anything new for the 28-year old. As a teenager he had to take a year-long break from his favourite sport due to an abnormal knee growth. One knee grew faster than the other resulting in an unevenness that brings to mind Garrincha’s misshapen legs.
During his days at Eintracht Bamberg’s youth academy, he also had to finalize his future career. Hard to believe the lanky teenager with the blonde wild curls also had once dreams of becoming a chef. When he realized it was one or the other and that learning about the art of cooking required cutting into his football schedule, he opted for the sport he loved.
Having an mother who actively encouraged him also helped fuel his passion. Years ago, he told Spiegel Online that his mother rarely punished him for missing school because of football.
“She has always supported me, always drove me. She knew this was my life.”
Oddly, his early football concerns dealt more with his physique. His weight was always an issue for his coaches. Before moving to Bayer Leverkusen, his former Nuremberg coach, Wolfgang Wolf, considered him too skinny and suggested he eat more schweinebraten (roasted pork).
His current career path, however, has one nagging rock: the snub he continues to receive from the German national manager. Reasons are plentiful, speculation is rife, but no one has the correct answer besides the coach himself, who has thus far refused to offer a direct answer as to why he’s given Kiessling the cold-shoulder.
Perhaps Germany’s national coach doesn’t think Kiessling is the proper fit in his highly technical and high-speed game. But then again from a technical perspective, neither is Gomez, yet one could argue the Bayern forward possesses a more consistent scoring record for both club and country (at least for the last two seasons).
Then there is the aging Klose, who is difficult to drop because he’s an age-defying goalgetter. Time and again, he’s proven he still has gas left in the tank.
In Kiessling’s defense though, while he isn’t a playmaker or known for scoring pretty goals, he’s one of those players that’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s gritty with a great ability to head the ball and his current form definitely doesn’t warrant exclusion. What if scoring isn’t the issue here; maybe Jogi justifiably prefers Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose to Kiessling.
But Kiessling isn’t the only Bayer Leverkusen player overlooked by Jogi. His fellow teammate Gonzalo Castro, who has also been having a phenomenal season, has yet to reappear on the international scene. Even the club’s manager Sami Hyypia added his two cents to the conversation, “I’m not Jogi Loew, but it would be nice for both of them if they were part of the squad again.”
What if the duo are just part of a forgotten generation overshadowed by the emergence of young talented players such as Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Lars Bender, Ilkay Gundogan, Mats Hummels, Andre Schuerrle, Marcel Schmelzer and Mario Goetze to name a few? (That or maybe, just maybe, Loew isn’t too fond of Bayer Leverkusen players…remember Michael Ballack?)
Jogi’s selection for the Netherlands friendly further supports this view. He opted to go with youngsters Sven Bender, Lewis Holtby and Roman Neustaedter instead, perhaps to provide them with the chance to gain international experience. But the match could have also laid Jogi’s ambivalent feelings (if he had any to begin with) about Kiessling to rest by providing him with the opportunity to definitively determine if the Leverkusen player can fit or at least adapt to his tactics, if that were ever the case, of course.
Luckily, his exclusion hasn’t impacted his game with Bayer Leverkusen. He’s made the best of the situation and has been able to direct more of his energy and effort toward his club.
“I’m not disappointed…I will concentrate on continuing to perform well for Leverkusen. We are already part of three competitions in which we can reach something,” he told Bild last month.
At his present rate he may surpass his goal tally from three seasons ago. For Kiessling, however, satisfaction is found in more than just goals. He’s striving for greater leadership within the team too.
“I not only try to help the team with my actions, but also by encouraging and comforting my colleagues.”
He’s also a dedicated father and husband. With the recent birth of his second child, he decided to tattoo his daughter’s name on his arm, with the other arm already inked with that of his son.
Now, the only worthy name missing from this narrative is that of Herr Kiessling himself, on Jogi’s list of die Nationalmannschaft, of course.