He was Germany's top scorer of the 2012 calendar year and of this season so far. So why can't Stefan Kiessling get a call-up to the German national team? DW Sports’ Jefferson Chase looks at an underappreciated striker.
In the aftermath of Round 18, when Kiessling move up to a chart-topping 13 league goals for the season, sports journalist Sven Pistor advanced an unusual theory as to why the Leverkusen striker seems unable to attract the attention of Germany coach Joachim Löw.
Kiessling, it seems, is too nice a guy.
"He's not a big mouth," Pistor opined in pleading the striker's case for the German broadcaster ARD. "From what you see and hear from him he seems pretty shy. And there have been no scandals in his life - at least that have become publicly known."
Now that's a novelty - a player too well-behaved to get a shot at representing his country.
Kiessling's statistics are equally blemish-free. Not only did he score more goals in the 2012 calendar year than anyone else in the Bundesliga. And last season he achieved a complete Bundesliga set, having scored against all the other 17 teams then in the first division. And he very nearly finished as the Bundesliga's leading scorer in 2010 - falling only one goal shy of Edin Dzeko.
That performance earned Kiessling a spot in the German squad for the 2010 World Cup, but thus far the tournament in South Africa has been the end of line for the striker in the Nationalelf. So what's his problem? A dearth of barroom brawling and turgid affairs with teammates' wives?
Not likely. Joachim Löw - he of the provincial accent and turtleneck sweaters - is hardly the type to reward decadent flash over down-to-earth substance. Kiessling's national-team frustration is down to the fact that he got hurt at precisely the wrong time.
In the fall of 2010, coming off the World Cup, his best season ever and a contract extension with Leverkusen, Kiessling tore a syndesmosis. The injury required an operation, and he had to have a screw put in between his two calf bones.
He was out of action until almost the winter break. Coming back in 2011, Kiessling finished the season with seven goals - a respectable total considering what he had been through. But a slow start the following season created the impression that the forward was a player who had one stellar campaign and then couldn't maintain that level of performance.
To compound Kiessling's misfortune, Bayern striker Mario Gomez went ballistic in the 2010-11 season, scoring 28 in the Bundesliga and 39 goals in 45 matches in all competitions.
With Gomez in red-hot form, and Löw's perennial favourite, Miroslav Klose, restarting his career at Lazio, the Germany coach decided he didn't need three classic center forwards in his squad.
This season, however, the situation has been reversed – with Gomez struggling to return to Bayern's starting XI after ankle surgery and Kiessling scoring for fun. Kiessling's thirteen goals this season are perhaps the single most important reason that Leverkusen are second in the table.
That's won him some prominent advocates. Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last fall, Philipp Selldorf called for his return to the national squad.
"Some players attract attention for getting called up to the national team," Selldorf argued. "Kiessling attracted attention for again not getting called up."
An Irritating Topic
The pro-Kiessling voices have so increased in volume that in conjunction with Germany's friendly against the Netherlands last November, Löw issued a statement saying he "hadn't forgotten" about the Leverkusen hitman. Nevertheless, Löw left him out of the squad despite injuries to both Gomez and Klose.
Part of the problem may be Kiessling's reputation as a hard-working but somewhat ungainly player. That's a bit unfair. While no one is ever going to mistake him for Robin van Persie, he's an efficient striker in the mold of Löw's former boss, Jürgen Klinsmann, also hardly the definition of elegance.
And at the age of almost 29, Kiessling is showing a more mature understanding of the game.
For example, against Frankfurt last weekend, Kiessling scored the game winner after not going for a through ball from Andre Schürrle. Realizing that teammate Gonzalo Castro was slightly better placed to latch on the pass, he ghosted into the middle instead and easily slotted home.
It was not the sort of shot that would get considered for Goal of the Week. But it did seal Leverkusen three valuable points and put them six clear of fourth-place Frankfurt. That sort of effectiveness is what is winning over more and more supporters for the reticent striker.
Löw was in Leverkusen watching the match - a fact Kiessling no doubt registered. Mild-mannered he may be, but the striker couldn't help but turn sarcastic when asked about his national team prospects last November.
"It's really irritating - what can I say?" Kiessling growled in an interview with the Bundesliga. "I read that he [Löw] has 'registered' me. That's nice. I have no influence on anything else. I just try to perform on the pitch."
Kiessling, the German Under-21 captain in his youth, could have notched up his seventh cap this summer when the German national team takes a tour of the US. Löw has indicated that he plans to invite some non-regular squad members to those friendlies.
But others are saying Kiessling should be playing a much more central role than that in Löw's planning for 2014 World Cup.