Leverkusen – Think Bayer 04 Leverkusen, think Stefan Kießling. The German striker has been on the goalscoring prowl for die Werkself for a decade, not only netting by the bucketload but all the time enhancing his reputation as one of the most distinct professionals in the Bundesliga.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the 31-year-old discussed what was not necessarily an easy season, the losses of Simon Rolfes, Stefan Reinartz and Gonzalo Castro this winter, as well as his club's new arrivals and a former team-mate now back in the Bundesliga – Arturo Vidal.
bundesliga.com: Stefan Kießling, last season probably doesn't rank as one of your best, yet you still got your playing time and goals as usual…
Stefan Kießling: If you look at the statistics, then I did have more chances in seasons gone by, and I also scored more goals and set up more in the past. It just took me a bit of time to get used to a new role that I was asked to fill. Nevertheless, I still played 49 out of 49 games and had good tackling and running figures, so I still think I had a decent season.
bundesliga.com: Not only you, the whole team seemed to need time to get used to what new coach Roger Schmidt wanted…
Kießling: That's true (grins). We did a really good job in the first few matches, but then we realised that we had to go about things a bit cleverer and we analysed that during the winter break and things went a lot better in the second half of the season. I also started scoring with more regularity then because I was able to play differently to the first half of the season. Obviously when I'm distributing balls from the centre circle, it's pretty hard to put them in the net also (smiles).
'I'm convinced we're going to have a competitive squad'
bundesliga.com: In Simon Rolfes (r.), Gonzalo Castro and Stefan Reinartz, three of the team-mates you spent much of the last decade with have left Bayer this summer. What does their loss mean on a sporting level?
Kießling: It's definitely a big loss, not only sporting but also on a human level because they are three top characters. But football's like this, people come and people go. What's more important is that those brought in fit in. We've got many very young players who have an incredible amount of potential. If they succeed in proving their potential, then I'm convinced we're going to have a competitive squad.
bundesliga.com: Does Rolfes' retirement get you also thinking about how the end of your own career is approaching?
Kießling: I actually have had those thoughts a few times. Simon quit at 33 and my contract with Bayern has two years left to run on it, and then I'll also be 33. But I'm trying to think as little as possible about that and to enjoy playing while I can. Football's my passion and I'm grateful for every game I get to play, and hopefully I've still got a few more to come…
'I'm sure I will play, so why not together with Admir?!'
bundesliga.com: Do you think the new signings have settled in well enough for you to latch on to your performances from the second half of last season?
Kießling: We're certainly going to have to wait and see how things go. Everything can look perfect in warm-up matches, but that's no guarantee that it will work just as well when the season starts. We've worked well on the whole and played some very good games against Levante and Verona, in which we did pretty much all that we had planned. The real art of football is to deliver these performances right from the start, and game in, game out. I hope we've learnt this and we don't need six or seven games to get it right.
bundesliga.com: With Admir Mehmedi, you have another striker who will be desperate for your place in the starting XI. Can you see a solution which keeps you both happy?
Kießling: I don't see Admir as a centre forward. He's a very good footballer and has incredible technique and a good eye for his team-mates. He varies things and can play any position along the front line. He's guaranteed to help us. Of course I also want to play and if I perform, then I'm sure I will play. So why not together with Admir?!
bundesliga.com: Another former team-mate of yours is back in the Bundesliga – tell us what your memories are of Arturo Vidal.
Kießling: I knew Arturo would come on the way he has because he's an excellent footballer who also plays for the team. He may have the reputation of being a bit hot-headed, but I get the impression he's improved in that department with Juventus and is now more mature. He's got the whole package.
bundesliga.com: So are Bayern even more unstoppable?
Kießling: There are going to be plenty of sides jostling for the sought-after Champions League slots. I think Borussia Mönchengladbach will have another good season, Schalke have strengthened and Dortmund are going to come back too. Then there's Wolfsburg, of course, and we're there still too. But let's not beat about the bush – a heck of a lot has got to go wrong for Bayern and conversely so much has got to go right for their rivals for the title not to end up in Munich. We'll definitely give it our best shot, and I'm convinced we'll be up there among the leading sides again.
Interview by Andreas Kötter