For the last five years, Stefan Kiessling has been one of German football’s most consistent forwards. Since swapping Nuremberg for Bayer Leverkusen in summer 2006, the 28-year-old has an impressive scoring record of 78 goals in 194 Bundesliga appearances.
Furthermore, far from merely using his height to act as a target man, the striker is a team player and has contributed 33 assists in the same period. Yet the father of two is as modest away from the pitch as he is determined and aggressive on it.
Those factors have contributed to Kiessling becoming a firm fan favourite in his six years at Leverkusen. His strong performances, coupled with his easy-going character, also earned him a call-up to the national team and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ squad. However, his steady upward career trajectory has since unexpectedly reached a plateau.
Kiessling's participation at the showpiece in South Africa two years ago remains his greatest sporting achievement to date. It also provided the forward’s last outing in a Germany shirt, in the 3-2 victory over Uruguay in the match for third place. And there is now no shortage of experts campaigning for him to be recalled into Joachim Low’s team.
“Stefan is Bayer’s poster boy. His manner, his style of play and the goals he scores are really impressive,” Leverkusen’s sporting director Rudi Voller told Germany’s Bild newspaper. “If he continues to perform as he is, it’ll make it increasingly hard for Low to ignore him. Stefan’s aim has to be the 2014 World Cup. He’s still too young to end his international career."
Kiessling himself remains philosophical. “The praise is a nice recognition of my work and my performances," the striker said in interview with FIFA.com. "The key reason behind my good form is fitness. When my body and mind are in good shape, the goals come naturally. But I need to keep attracting praise and I can only do that by playing well. Everything else is out of my hands.”
Kiessling is well aware of his own abilities, but also knows how difficult it will be to move out of the shadow of Germany’s current first-choice strikers, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez.
"The World Cup in South Africa was a great experience, with both positive and negative moments,” a remarkably open Kiessling said. “I was separated from my family for a long time and unfortunately I didn’t play all that often. That’s why my next aim isn’t necessarily Brazil 2014, but a title with Bayer Leverkusen.”
The desire to take things one step at a time is a trait the forward has retained ever since making his professional debut ten years ago. Kiessling is the kind of player who prefers to let his performances on the pitch do the talking.
Thanks in large part to Kiessling’s seven goals in the first 11 competitive fixtures this season, Leverkusen have enjoyed a successful start on three fronts. As well as currently sitting fifth in the Bundesliga standings, they are second in UEFA Europa League Group K and are through to the second round of the German cup.
“I think I can be satisfied with the numbers,” said Kiessling. "Of course, I’m self-critical enough to admit that I wasn’t that good in one or two games. I need to be more consistent in future." Yet contrary to his own perception, the striker's consistency is in fact one of his greatest strengths: there are few forwards in Germany whose scoring record stands up to such close scrutiny.
Kiessling can put himself back in the spotlight on Thursday, when Leverkusen face Rapid Vienna away in their third Europa League group game. A strong showing would give the forward’s advocates further ammunition in an attempt to force Low’s hand.
“The match in Vienna certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion,” Kiessling side of the clash against the Austrian side yet to pick up a point. “It’ll be very difficult. We need to be fully focused and prepare for it carefully.”
A continued scoring streak from Kiessling would not only benefit his club, but would also prove timely for the German national team. Low is currently missing a genuine alternative to Klose, especially with Gomez currently out of the equation with a persistent ankle injury. Leverkusen’s No11 has more reason than most to be considered next in line, having struck 18 goals in 23 Bundesliga outings in the present calendar year.
Yet Kiessling, who recently became a father for the second time, shows no sign of betraying his modest character. “I don’t actually want to think about making a comeback in the national team. My honest opinion is that if I’m not called up, then I’m happy spending time at home with my family. Aside from that, I’m not paying much attention to it. But if I do get selected again, obviously I’d be delighted.”
Such is Kiessling’s reserve, you can almost feel yourself urging the six-time international to show more self-confidence, something his performances on the pitch would more than justify. Yet even in explaining the origin of his much-admired eye for goal, the forward remains self-effacing. “It’s all down to hard work. There were times when the ball didn’t go where I wanted it to. Of course, some of it’s due to luck too.”
Kiessling is evidently at ease with his understated demeanour, but it's clear too that this masks a fiery passion which continues to make him a force to be reckoned with.