The time has come to say Auf Wiedersehen, Stefan Kießling. The giant striker who will go down in Bundesliga folklore following an incredible 12 seasons and more than 440 official games for Bayer Leverkusen, has called it a day after 162 goals scored for the Factory Workers.
At 34, Kießling decided to listen to his body – and specifically his troubled hip – when bringing an admirable career that brought a Torjägerkanone, several appearances at a FIFA World Cup and the adulation of all those connected with his club to an end as Leverkusen finished a fine campaign with a last-day win against Hannover.
Watch: Kießling doing what he did best in 2016/17!
"He trains fantastically, is always fully committed and is absolutely a role model in the dressing room," current B04 coach Heiko Herrlich said of the forward, who tasted the action one last time as a late substitute on Matchday 34.
"He has a great personality and I’m very pleased Bayer Leverkusen had someone like him in the ranks, a person who has identified with this club and has given everything over the years," Herrlich added.
Kießling’s Leverkusen adventure began in 2006, when Die Werkself, snapped him up from Nuremberg. Despite reported interest from Bayern Munich and Arsenal at that time, he agreed terms on an initial four-year deal in North Rhine-Westphalia as a 22-year-old. The one-time goalkeeper and keen chef netted eight Bundesliga goals in his first season, a tally which he would steadily improve on over the coming campaigns.
It was in the 2012/13 season that the man from northern Bavaria entered the history books. Edging out Bundesliga legend Robert Lewandowski – then at Borussia Dortmund – Kießling was crowned the division’s top goalscorer with 25 goals. The only Leverkusen player to have previously achieved the feat was Ulf Kirsten.
And then there was the bizarre phenomenon that became known as Das Phantomtor, or the 'Ghost' goal. During an encounter against Hoffenheim in 2013, Kießling rose to head a corner goalwards, but turned with his hands on his head when he saw his effort had flown into the side-netting. Yet the ball crept into the net via a hole and to the player’s bemusement, he was soon swamped by celebrating teammates, the goal signalled as good.
Watch: Stefan Kießling's goal that never was
On the international scene, the striker won six caps and following some solid form on the domestic and European fronts, was part of the Germany squad that travelled to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Kießling made two appearances as Germany finished the tournament in third place.
Now, almost eight years later, it is time for one of the Bundesliga’s most respected players to bring the curtain down on a stellar career. An injury to his right hip sustained during a 2016 winter camp has taken a serious toll on the player, who recently said, "If I bend over to put on my socks or tie my shoes, it hurts."
Despite that, Kießling has battled through the pain and still trains at maximum effort, a factor that helped him to surpass a combined total of 400 Bundesliga games for Leverkusen and Nuremberg. "It's an incredibly beautiful feeling and I'm so proud of it," he said of reaching that milestone.
"Coach Heiko Herrlich said after my 400th game in Wolfsburg that playing that match was not a gift, it was the reward for my work. I was overjoyed that I got the chance [as it was] special and shows I have played consistently in the Bundesliga for years."
For now, it is farewell from the playing side of things, but Kießling has admitted he isn’t ready to separate from the club he has served so well down through the years.
"I'm not really saying goodbye, I will continue to be a part of Bayer 04 in the future," he said, ensuring that the hoards who adore Stefan Kießling will be seeing his characteristic smile around the club for a long time to come.