Bayer 04 Leverkusen forward Stefan Kießling is cautiously optimistic ahead of his side’s meeting with FC Bayern München on Saturday, and believes there is plenty more to come from his budding partnership with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, the 32-year-old talks about his proposed move to Hannover 96 falling through, playing alongside a certain Mexican megastar and the upcoming match against the Bundesliga leaders.
bundesliga.com: Stefan Kießling, a couple of weeks ago you had as good as signed for Hannover 96, but are now about to extend your contract at Leverkusen. That would appear to confirm the theory that it is better never to make plans in football…
Stefan Kießling: That’s right [grins]. The last couple of weeks have been intense, and even for an experienced professional like me it was very confusing emotionally. I had made up my mind to join Hannover and had already agreed to move there. My children were already enrolled in school and kindergarten and we were busy house hunting.
bundesliga.com: Would it have been emotional to leave Leverkusen after ten years as a fan favourite?
Kießling: Deciding to leave Leverkusen was far from easy after such a long time here. I didn’t make the decision overnight, but after a lengthy period of consideration. I don’t know if it would have worked out, but I was willing to try it.
bundesliga.com: But Bayer did not want to let you go…
Kießling: I had some very good discussions with the decision-makers at Bayer, especially with Rudi [Völler, Leverkusen sporting director]. He made it clear from the off that he didn’t want me to go and he didn’t change his mind throughout the discussions. When someone like Rudi Völler supports you like that, it’s a nice indication of how much I’m appreciated by him and by Leverkusen in general.
bundesliga.com: And that was despite you having long since overtaken him in the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorers chart…
Kießling: That’s right, but he’s not mad about that anymore [laughs].
bundesliga.com: You and Chicharito are currently one of the most dangerous strike partnerships in the Bundesliga, even though at the start of the season it seemed that two such dominant forwards would not be able to play together. What caused head coach Roger Schmidt to change his mind?
Kießling: There’s no hiding that back then a lot of things didn’t click and I wasn’t in great form personally. But ahead of our last home game before the winter break against Borussia Mönchengladbach, the coach took me to one side and told me I’d be starting. I assumed it would be my last ever home game for Bayer and obviously I wanted to thank the club and the fans for all their support over so many years by putting in a good performance.
bundesliga.com: That ‘good performance’ turned into a demonstration of your ability…
Kießling: Everything really just clicked that day. Gladbach, who until then were the only team to have beaten FC Bayern München this season, didn’t stand a chance against us.
bundesliga.com: Leverkusen won 5-0, you scored two and created two for Chicharito. Was it one of your best ever games for Leverkusen?
Kießling: I’d say so. The partnership with ‘Chicha’ is something that has to develop with practice. It’s not going to happen overnight. Until then we’d played together in maybe two or three matches. It was precisely in those games that it didn’t work so well, because either the opposition were much better, or we had an off-day or whatever. There are a lot of factors involved. But I nevertheless always had the feeling that we could work well together. It might not be perfect right now, but we’re on the right track. I’m sure we'll benefit from each other in future.
bundesliga.com: How would you describe Chicharito as a striker?
Kießling: Chicha’s deadly when he pops up in front of goal. He has a knack of knowing where to be most of the time. He’s played for Manchester United and Real Madrid, and although things might not always have gone well for him there, he’s an absolutely top-level, world-class striker. We’re very happy he’s showing that here with us.
bundesliga.com: Chicharito’s performances has put the Bundesliga on everyone’s lips in Mexico. Have you ever experienced such euphoria surrounding a Leverkusen player before?
Kießling: It really is crazy, especially when I think back to our training camp in Orlando. But it was also crazy with ‘Sonny’ [Heung-Min Son] when we went to South Korea. Obviously in terms of raising the profile of the club and the league, things like that are great.
bundesliga.com: After a topsy-turvy Hinrunde, Leverkusen appear to be back on track now…
Kießling: Be careful, it’s only been a couple of games that things have gone well again.
Stefan Kießling was talking to Andreas Kötter