In his own words, Kevin Volland has struggled this season.
The German international has scored just twice since his transfer from Monaco to Union Berlin in August.
For someone who has scored freely since emerging onto the scene with 1860 Munich at 18 and was Bayer Leverkusen’s record signing from TSG Hoffenheim in 2016, Volland has made a career out of scoring half chances and punching above his weight.
At little more than 5ft 9 inches (don’t believe his Wikipedia page), the 31-year-old has a Michael Owen esque-stature and a similar reputation for scoring important goals.
Across his career, Volland has amassed 42 winning goals (out of 171) and experienced defeat just 20 times (out of 144 matches) when he has scored at a points contribution of 2.21 a goal.
His 25 contributions (14 goals and 9 assists) secured Leverkusen a DFB Pokal Runners-Up medal and a Champions League place in 2019/20.
His 33 goals and 18 assists across three seasons at Monaco lifted his side to Runners-Up in the French Cup and into the Champions League.
Whilst medals have been few and far between, Volland can boast the fastest goal in Bundesliga history with a goal inside 9 seconds for Hoffenheim against Bayern Munich in 2015.
Add those achievements to an overall record of 139 goal contributions (77 goals and 62 assists) across his 247 Bundesliga appearances with Hoffenheim and Leverkusen, Volland has been prolific in front of goal and earned 15 international caps for Germany.
That has dried up at Union Berlin.
In 13 appearances, he has scored just twice with one assist but that is starting to change.
His 89th-minute equaliser against FC Augsburg rescued a point for Union, stopping a run of nine consecutive league defeats.
Yesterday, his penalty in the first half initiated Union Berlin’s first win in all competitions stretching back to August.
After the game, Volland gave an honest assessment of the season so far in an exclusive interview.
“A difficult situation”: Recent form
It had been 105 days since Union Berlin had experienced victory when Borussia Mönchengladbach arrived in Köpenick having lost just one in their last seven games.
Aside from a Red card in the 3-0 defeat to RB Leipzig in September that initiated Union’s decline and the subsequent three-game suspension, Volland has played in most defeats.
He admits that recent form has not been good enough:
“It hasn’t been easy, I haven’t scored enough goals, and we haven’t done enough to win games but to be honest, it’s about taking opportunities when they come, being confident, we did that today and it felt good.
“Off the pitch, it was tough. If it’s early in the season and we are losing game after game after game, you think you have a lot of games still to play. That’s how we felt, sometimes you’re not sharp enough or too relaxed. There was a bit of that. I think after finding ourselves last in the table of Bundesliga, everyone knew we were in a difficult situation. It was a wake-up.”
“There was freedom”: A change of style
Union’s run of defeats signalled the end of much-loved Urs Fischer after five extraordinary seasons in Köpenick.
Croatia, Nenad Bjelica was appointed to steer the Union ship and the former Dinamo Zagreb and Trabzonspor Head Coach is slowly turning their form around.
Volland highlighted how Bjelica has reinvigorated the squad during the two-week break:
“The new coach has focussed on making sure we are prepared, playing our best and making us believe. We have been playing well in training, passing with pace, with purpose,
Sometimes we just needed a break. We changed the system, everyone knows we are in a shit situation and sometimes we can change our mind, we changed our mindset, as a team we came closer together. You can see it on the pitch in how we played today. There was freedom, we were more relaxed.
“We knew the win would come sooner or later. We had to keep believing. It’s not been pretty. We have been hungry for victory and we have worked hard on the training pitch so work better as a team, to work together as a unit.
“The formation has complemented me and the team, I prefer playing more centrally but it has to be what’s best for the team and that showed today.”
“Today was the start”: Finding Hope
Volland’s first-half penalty, accompanied by a spectacular volley by Benedict Hollerbach and a clinical finish from Mikel Kaufmann in the second half lifted the pressure on Union Berlin but Volland emphasised that the 3-1 win over Gladbach was just the start:
”We showed glimpses against Braga (in the Champions League), it reminded us what’s possible as a team, we should have won but you learn from those experiences.
“Under the new coach, we have managed that as a team, come closer together. We have been coached to win games, a new formation and today it was the start.
“In the Champions League we have nothing to lose now. We have had close games but now, it’s about hoping. We have to enjoy this last game, to play it with our hearts, to be free from pressure in the head. Sometimes it has paralysed us a little but in football, anything can happen and what’s the word in English? Hope.
“If we can win the game and play free, and Braga lose then we will be happy but the main priority now, the main focus has to be on Bundesliga now.”
As Volland mentions, attention now turns to Real Madrid at the Olympiastadion in midweek.
Union Berlin are already knocked out of the Champions League but with renewed spirit, they are a match for any team and with Volland starting to score they may just dare to dream about one more historic night in Europe.
With Kevin Volland up-front, nothing is impossible.