He may not boast a FIFA World Cup winner's medal like his team-mates Julian Draxler and Andre Schürrle, but VfL Wolfsburg's Daniel Caligiuri has been a model of understated reliability for his side this season.
After playing a starring role in the club's second-place finish and DFB Cup triumph last season, the 27-year-old has again started the campaign strongly and scored the winner last time out at SV Darmstadt 98. Ahead of Wolfsburg's clash with Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Saturday, bundesliga.com sat down with the former SC Freiburg man to hear his view on the season so far...
bundesliga.com: Daniel Caligiuri, in the 2014/15 season you were not only the second best outfield player after Kevin De Bruyne, you were also the seventh best in the whole of the Bundesliga. Were you aware of this and what does it mean to you?
Daniel Caligiuri: I'd read about it at the end of last season and I'd be lying if I said that it didn't make me happy. It's all gone really well for me and I'm happy with the way I'm performing right now.
bundesliga.com: Despite some strong competition for places, you're playing regularly this season. Where does your confidence come from?
Caligiuri: We've got five or six really exceptional forwards and each one of us can make the difference in a match. That's why it's important that we believe in ourselves and in our strengths. That’s the only way you can show what you're capable of out on the pitch and convince the coach to pick you.
bundesliga.com: You didn't become a professional after joining a youth academy like most players these days. Instead you travelled alone to training, often over long distances. Has that played a part in moulding your character?
Caligiuri: I desperately wanted to follow in the footsteps of my elder brother Marco and become a footballer. That's why I was happy to do what I did. It wasn't always easy, but thanks in large part to the support of my parents, it turned out to be a successful path.
'I wouldn't say I was frustrated'
bundesliga.com: Do you feel you have to do more to be noticed than the really big names in the game?
Caligiuri: Perhaps. It's not always easy when you feel that people only talk or write about other players, and that you're the second, third or fourth name being mentioned. At the end of the day, though, it only matters how well you judge yourself.
bundesliga.com: At Darmstadt, you were left out of the starting XI for the first time in seven matches, but you then scored the winning goal three minutes after coming on. Is that purely coincidence or did the frustration of being left out play a part?
Caligiuri: I wouldn't say I was frustrated, but when you play 90 minutes for seven games in a row, you do want to keep on playing. A little break can also do you good, though, and besides, the Darmstadt game showed more than anything how much quality we've got in our squad, that players can come off the bench and make a difference. In this case, it was me that scored the decisive goal, although Max Kruse did really well to set me up.
bundesliga.com: Team-mates can often be rivals, which makes the image of you and Andre Schürrle consoling each other after the defeat to FC Bayern München in the DFB Cup in midweek even nicer…
Caligiuri: I get on really well with Andre, like I get on really well with all of the players here. Obviously everybody is trying to convince the coach to pick him over somebody else, and that's the way things should be too – we're professionals. But we don't have any envy or resentment in our squad. At the end of the day, it's all about achieving the best for Wolfsburg, and we can only do that if we all pull in the same direction.
'We made it too easy for Bayern'
bundesliga.com: You were well beaten by Bayern for the second time this season. Can anybody beat them?
Caligiuri: You'd have to say they look like they're in a league of their own right now. They've got some exceptional individual quality and they're probably the best team in Europe right now. But despite all of their class, we have to admit that we hardly showed any fight in the first half and didn't compete. We weren't compact, we didn't press them quickly enough and we just made it too easy for them.
bundesliga.com: You know a thing about camaraderie and competition from within your own family – your brother Marco became a professional footballer before you - but now you seem to have overtaken him…
Caligiuri: It's true that my brother used to grab all the headlines (smiles), but just like my parents, Marco's always really supported me in my desire to follow him. Without that support, I'd never have managed it. Nowadays, if you look at the leagues, then I'm a step above him since he plays in the Bundesliga 2 at SpVgg Greuther Fürth and I'm playing in the Bundesliga, but that hasn't changed our relationship in the slightest, and even today he gives me important tips.
bundesliga.com: Marco has just extended his contract in Fürth until 2018 while you're committed to Wolfsburg until 2017. You're slowly running out of time to play on the same team…
Caligiuri: You never know what's going to happen in football. Realistically, though, I can't see it happening anymore. If it does happen, it will probably be for the a veterans team somewhere (smiles).
'I can still play for Italy or Germany'
bundesliga.com: There remains a definite possibility of you still becoming an international player. Your mother is German and your father Italian – are you risking breaking up your family with your choice?
Caligiuri: No, I'm not worried about that. Obviously we do talk about it, but my parents would never pressure me to pick one over the other. I don't even know for myself whether I'll get the opportunity to play for either. If both associations approached me, then I'd certainly have to give it some thought.
bundesliga.com: You almost made it into the Italy squad – you were called into a training camp by head coach Antonio Conte recently…
Caligiuri: Yes, I was in the extended squad for the two internationals against Croatia and Portugal in May and I spent four days training with the team. I wasn't named in the final squad, so I still haven't picked up my first cap - and that means I can still play for either country. Let's just wait and see what happens.
'Leverkusen are aiming for a Champions League spot - just like us'
bundesliga.com: Up next you face Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg have 18 points, Leverkusen 17 – it seems like a pretty even match.
Caligiuri: It's going to be. Just like us, Leverkusen want a place in the Champions League next season, and we certainly can't afford another first half like the one against Bayern. We have to compete right from the first minute and if we can do that, then I'm convinced we'll be able to build on our strong home record.
bundesliga.com: You're not concerned by the spectacular games Leverkusen have been involved in lately against Roma and Stuttgart?
Caligiuri: Bayer have a great team, there's no question about it. They've got enormous quality up front too, but in the two games you mentioned you could also see that they're not always that tight at the back. We have to get at them.
Interview by Andres Kötter