• Wagner has scored a career-best 13 Bundesliga goals in 2015/16.
  • Darmstadt four points clear of relegation zone.
  • Lilies face Köln at the weekend.

When Germany won the U-21 European Championship in 2009, Sandro Wagner scored his side's third and fourth goals in a 4-0 victory over England in the final.

His team-mates that day included Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil, all of whom went on to win the FIFA World Cup with the senior side in Brazil in 2014.

Wagner's career path followed a rather different trajectory to those of his former colleagues in the subsequent years, and despite being widely recognised as a hugely talented striker he was unable to establish himself at SV Werder Bremen, 1. FC Kaiserslautern or Hertha Berlin.

Now, however, the 28-year-old is finally making his mark on the Bundesliga. With 13 league goals and four assists so far this term, the 6'3" forward is spearheading SV Darmstadt 98's pursuit of top-flight football again next season.

Wagner scored his 13th goal of the season in Darmstadt's 2-0 win over Ingolstadt on Matchday 30. © gettyimages / Alex Grimm

The full package

At the start of the 2015/16 campaign, many pundits had already written off both the club and their new striker, who had had to train alone towards the end of his spell at Hertha. Both, however, have defied expectation to pen a success story that could yet have a very happy ending.

Wagner's 13 Bundesliga goals have helped ensure that the Lilies go into their final four fixtures with a four-point cushion on the relegation zone, but it is his attitude and approach that have earned him widespread admiration in the terraces of the wonderfully humble Merck-Stadion am Böllenfalltor.

The most fouled player in the Bundesliga, the former FC Bayern München youth talent is often the man seen kick-starting counter-attacks on the edge of own his area, before haring up the pitch to finish them off. Anyone questioning why Darmstadt have yet to spend a single second in the bottom three need only look at their plus-70-per-cent conversion rate in front of goal.

Darmstadt's leading scorer (c.) is a firm favourite with fans and team-mates alike. © gettyimages / Alex Grimm

Darmstadt defiant

To supplement his rekindled nose for goal, newfound defensive qualities and endless energy reserves, Wagner has also learnt how to deal with setbacks. A missed penalty in the 3-2 defeat to 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Matchday 8 could have sent him into a tailspin; instead he used the ensuing international break to his advantage and duly opened the scoring in the 2-0 win away to FC Augsburg a fortnight later.

That is not to say Darmstadt's first season back in the big time since 1982 has been all plain-sailing. A five-match lean spell in the autumn appeared to justify their critics' pre-season doubts, but Dirk Schuster's men - despite only registering a league-low four home wins all season - have always had an answer.

Darmstadt are unlikely to learn their fate until after the Matchday 32 derby with local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt at the earliest, but if Wagner can continue to fight, fire and delight, Bundesliga fans can expect to see the Lilies in full bloom throughout the summer months and into the new campaign.