Bayer Leverkusen and Kevin Volland have come through a difficult period and are riding the crest of a wave. The striker has told DW how he overcame a dip in form and how he still harbors hopes of going to the World Cup.
There are moments in the career of a professional footballer when everything just seems to click, and Bayer Leverkusen forward Kevin Volland is now thoroughly enjoying life. But it wasn't always this way. Just a year ago, Volland was struggling to get into the Werkself's first team. But, as he told DW, new head coach Heiko Herrlich has turned things around on the right bank of the Rhine.
DW: Your best-ever return has been 11 goals in 33 Bundesliga games. This season, you've already scored 10 times in just 19 appearances. Are we currently seeing the best of Kevin Volland?
Kevin Volland: This is definitely one of my best-ever years so far. But I still have work to do. I'm just really happy to be playing in this team. I have great teammates who provide me with chances to score. Having a good team is our recipe for success.
Not so long ago, your footballing world looked very different. In your first season in Leverkusen under coach Roger Schmitt, you were far from your best. What's changed under Heiko Herrlich?
It was a turbulent time last season. The expectations on both myself and the team were high and, for various reasons, we couldn't live up to them. When Heiko Herrlich arrived in the summer, he managed to clear our heads a little bit. We've got a new playing style and a slightly different setup. It always takes a while to get used to it but we've now managed to get a bit more consistency in our game.
Did you ever doubt yourself during your first year in Leverkusen? After all, there must have been high expectations for a €20-million ($24.8 million) transfer.
Initially, I didn't think about it too much. Everything was going well in preseason … perhaps too well. It wasn't anything to with integration into the team either; it was more to do with injuries. I broke my hand and then got sent off against Hoffenheim. When you play against your former club for the first time and then get sent off after just six minutes, just forget it.
And then it was downward spiral?
It was a trend that continued like a bad, red thread all through the first half of the season. And then I picked up a bad muscle injury towards the end of 2016. The second half of the season was better, although I know it was a disappointing campaign for all of us. A relegation battle is certainly not what this club expects. But in that sort of situation, your state of mind plays a huge role. Thankfully, it's a lot better this season.
How would you describe your current role in the team? Are you a leader?
I always wanted to be a leader on the pitch, whether this was when I was just 20 years old or now. My attitude hasn't changed in this regard. I was never one to hide behind others on the pitch. This season, the hierarchy in the team is back to the way it should be. Players like Stefan Kiessling or the Bender twins [Lars and Sven] support the many youngsters on the team. This is a role that I too am growing into.
Successful strikers such as yourself are in high demand, particularly in the English Premier League, where there seems to be an endless supply of money to go around. Do you think that the sums being paid in the UK are justified?
No matter where you look, whether in England or Germany, the discrepancy [in wages] compared to other sports is huge. On the other hand, football is the most popular sport and a lot of revenue is generated through sponsorship and television deals.
You could stand to profit from this.
I have already had opportunities to go to England, but I am happy here. I love it in Leverkusen and I think the Bundesliga is really good. It's the top level. I have everything I need here. My contract runs until 2021, so there is no reason to waste any thoughts on [a move].
Aren't you worried that a possible wave of transfers to the Premier League would lead to a major drop in quality in the Bundesliga?
The transfer fees that are being paid in England are crazy. There is significantly more money from television and the clubs have other means at their disposal. Despite this, I think things in the Bundesliga are perfectly fine.
You could be part of the German team that will embark upon its World Cup title defense in Russia this summer. How do you see your chances of earning a call up from head coach Joachim Löw?
As a German player, you always get your hopes up ahead of a major tournament. I haven't been called up for some time. On the other hand, I know that I am performing well here and am looking to do so consistently in the hope of there being a small chance [of earning a call up]. However, the national team coach has a huge pool of players to choose from.
Kevin Volland, 25, joined Bayer Leverkusen prior to the 2016-17 season after having spent the four previous seasons in Hoffenfheim. He was part of Germany coach Joachim Löw's extended roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, however he did not make the final cut. He has made a total of 10 appearances for Germany and scored one goal.
The interview was conducted by Jörg Strohschein