Friday 23 March 2018

Unloved Kiessling has United in sight

Marcus Christenson

The goals kept coming, but the call-up did not. Last season Stefan Kiessling scored 25 times for Bayer Leverkusen and finished as the top scorer in a league dominated by two other teams. This season, he started off in the same vein, but, having been watched by Joachim Low as he scored his 100th league goal for the Bundesliga club in August, and again asked why he was not picked by the Germany coach, he finally cracked and quit international football.

"There will be no more Germany international Stefan Kiessling under Low," he told Bild. "Every goal is followed by questions about my international future. I am just annoyed by it now and it can't carry on.

"I want to take away the pressure to ensure that this issue is not brought up time and time again. I can now fully concentrate on Bayer. For three years now, there has not been any contact or any info on why I am not good enough for the national team."

And with that, the 29-year-old ended his international career. He has, in a way, become the Andy Cole or Chris Sutton of German football. A striker who is clearly born to score goals (although Chelsea fans may disagree that Sutton was that kind of player) but who, for some reason, is not appreciated by his international manager. Kiessling played six times for Germany between 2007 and 2010 but did not score.

On Wednesday, Kiessling will lead the line for Leverkusen when they take on Manchester United in the Champions League. A win for the German side would mean they leapfrog United, who could also be overtaken by Shakhtar Donetsk, who face bottom-club Real Sociedad on the same night.

Kiessling's stats this season – seven goals in 12 league games, two goals in four Champions League games – are particularly impressive as they have come after he lost his partner in crime, Andre Schurrle, last summer.

There were fears that Kiessling's goals per game ratio would drop with the departure of Schurrle to Chelsea but his team-mates Sidney Sam and Son Heung-min have responded to the added responsibility and ensured – with goals of their own and assists – that they have scored as many goals as the Bundesliga leaders, Bayern Munich, have after 12 games.

But for all the goals Kiessling has scored it is the one that did not actually go in that made him famous all over the world. This season, against Hoffenheim, Castro sent in a corner that Kiessling met powerfully with his head, only to steer the ball into the side netting. But the ball found its way into the Hoffenheim goal through a large hole in the side netting and the referee, Felix Brych, gave a goal.

Kiessling was baffled but still slowly raised his arms in the air to celebrate 'the goal'. Leverkusen won 2-1 and their opponents were, naturally, outraged.

There was anger, too, on social media. Kiessling was forced to deactivate his Facebook account, where he had more than 100,000 followers, and said that he had received threatening letters.

The worst attack, though, came from a German politician – a Borussia Monchengladbach supporter – who said he hoped the "spineless" Kiessling would "break both his legs".

Kiessling said he hoped supporters "would understand" and added: "I have not changed. I have been, I am, and will forever be fair and sportsmanlike.

"That will never change."

That Kiessling scores goals – and lots of them – is not likely to change either.


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