Why Kiessling Has Leverkusen in Title Contention, but Can't Get a Germany Recall
Scanning across the Bundesliga, several top strikers plied their trade in the German top flight in 2012.
Mario Gomez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Lukas Podolski, Raul, Robert Lewandowski, and Marco Reus all featured in the Bundesliga last year. But Stefan Kiessling outscored all of them, finding the net 25 times during the calendar year. And yet, the Leverkusen striker still stands little chance of ever playing again for Joachim Loew's Germany.
Indeed, as he approaches his 29th birthday on January 25, Kiessling has gone the better part of three years without representing his country—his last cap was a 17-minute outing as a substitute for Cacau in the 2010 World Cup third-place match. And in his career the native Bavarian has only been capped six times.
How can it be that Kiessling is so prolific for Leverkusen but cannot play for Germany? There are multiple reasons, the first being that despite his recent prolificacy in the Bundesliga, Kiessling is a striker with very ordinary skills and little experience at a very high level. And when he's had his chances, he's failed to take them—in his first Champions League campaign last season, he scored just one goal in eight appearances.
In the Europa League, Kiessling been even less successful, scoring just once in nine outings. Only in the now-defunct Uefa Cup has he ever had modest success on the international stage. Therein, he found the net seven times in 22 appearances—albeit with goals coming against the likes of Uniao Leiria, Toulouse and Zuerich. In his career he's only broken the 20-goal barrier once.
Perhaps this is why Loew so directly dismissed Kiessling on Monday in an interview with Express:
"In Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez we have two top strikers in the squad. Stefan is at the moment behind them."
Not only is Kiessling unproven at a high level, but he doesn't fit into Loew's system. Ever since Euro 2008, the trainer has almost exclusively used a 4-2-3-1 formation with Miroslav Klose leading the attack.
Mario Gomez—a physical, poacher-type striker with style far more akin to that of Kiessling than that of Klose—has been deployed on occasion, but following the Bayern man being benched after the group stage at Euro 2012 despite scoring a tournament-high three goals in the opening stage, it became quite clear the national trainer did not see Gomez as the long-term replacement for Klose.
He may have his faults, but Gomez has a much better record than Kiessling for performing at a high level. The ex-Stuttgart man has scored 25 goals in 39 career appearances in the Champions League, and has found the net 25 times for Germany in 57 caps. Given their relative similarities, if Gomez doesn't have Loew's trust, Kiessling never will.
With Klose nearing his 35th birthday and Gomez and Kiessling not the right fits for his squad, Loew indeed faces a striker problem ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
For last November's friendly with the Netherlands, the trainer deployed Mario Goetze as a "false nine." In May, he also revealed his intention to try Reus in the centre forward role. The possibilities are many, but none seems to involve Kiessling or any type of classic, poaching centre forward.
Looking forward, the future looks grim for Kiessling's international career. If the honor of being top scorer in Germany in 2012 was not enough for him to earn a recall even for a friendly, one can only wonder what it would take for him to be capped once more. Perhaps what Kiessling needs is something out of his control—a new national team coach.
Kiessling started the 2013 calendar year where he left off in December, scoring and assisting a goal apiece as Leverkusen beat Frankfurt 3-1. His prolificacy in the Bundesliga cannot be called into question and it seems he is set to fire die Werkself back into the Champions League.
No matter how many goals he scores in Germany, though, it is unlikely he'll ever garner much attention from Loew. Maybe if he is the Champions League top scorer in 2013-14, or if he learns to dribble like Reus and Goetze—just don't count on it.
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