A muscular injury would have precluded his involvement for Germany against England this week had he been selected, but at 28, Lars Stindl should not be made to wait much longer for his international debut.
The Borussia Mönchengladbach captain has been at the heart of the club’s revival under Dieter Hecking in recent weeks, taking the mantle as the talisman of the Bundesliga side’s surge to safety after a disappointing first half of the season.
Capped just once at under-21 international, perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Stindl has never received senior recognition with Die Mannschaft; after all, it is his remarkable knack of not being noticed that has made him such an effective goal-scorer.
For all his many gifts – his crisp and accurate passing, savvy movement, intelligence and near-flawless shooting technique – the way Stindl manages to amble into the opposition’s penalty area unmarked before invariably latching onto a through-ball or cross, is perhaps his most distinguishing attribute.
If Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller is a self-style “raumdeuter” – space investigator – due to his ability to sniff out open acreage in the final third, then Stindl should be considered a form of spatial cat-burglar, stealing a yard or two that an opponent thought was well marshalled.
Many such situations account for the 14 goals he has scored in 32 all-competitions outings this term.
Finding themselves 2-0 down away to Fiorentina in the Europa League last-32 second leg in February, Gladbach turned the game on its head to come away 4-2 victors, thanks largely to a Stindl hat-trick.
A first from the penalty spot got the ball rolling just before half-time, but his second and third were typical of the former Hannover forward’s unique skill set. When pinball-esque chaos ensued following a dropping corner, Stindl was Johnny on the Spot, side-footing the ricocheting ball beyond La Viola goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu.
Then, when Gladbach had a free-kick in a wide area, the skipper somehow popped up unmarked on the edge of the area to drive the ball home into the bottom corner.
More than his goals, it is Stindl’s leadership and responsibility that has spurred Die Fohlen on this season. Rather than shout and scream, with waving arms and overt gestures for the eyes of the watching audience, the Karlsruher academy graduate leads with confidence and humility, letting his work rate and technical quality inspire his team-mates to do and achieve more.
When Hecking’s men travelled to the BayArena to take on Bayer Leverkusen in late January, an abject first-half display saw them go in at the break trailing 2-0. Having drawn their previous game – the new manager’s first at the helm -- with struggling Darmstadt, it seemed as though Gladbach were destined to slip into a relegation battle, unable to recover from their poor form under André Schubert before the winter break.
However, Stindl had other ideas. The No.13 dragged his side back into the game with two goals in quick succession after the restart. The first saw the 5’11” forward outmuscle Jonathan Tah, Bayer’s 6’4” powerhouse of a central defender, on the edge of the 18-yard box before coolly finishing beyond Bernd Leno.
The goal energised the away side and struck panic into the Leverkusen backline. Stindl started the move which led to his second near the halfway line before continuing his forward progress as Gladbach worked the ball out wide. His no-frills jog towards the penalty spot was once again unchecked, and the captain was rewarded by Oscar Wendt’s cross swinging perfectly in his direction. An emphatic header levelled score and set the tone for a stunning, come-from-behind 3-2 win.
Stindl’s intelligence and technique had bagged him a brace, but it was his determination and refusal to be beaten that rallied the troops and stole a vital three points for Gladbach. They have only lost one domestic game – to high-flying RB Leipzig – since then.
Equally at home in an attacking midfield role of as part of a front two, Stindl’s versatility and nous in the final third would be a sound option for Germany, who, since Miroslav Klose’s international retirement, lack an obvious attacking figurehead.
Mario Gómez is experienced but painfully limited, while RB Leipzig’s exciting 21-year-old striker Timo Werner is still developing; Lucas Podolski played his last game for Germany against England and Bayern’s Müller is out of form and not a natural fit at centre-forward. A player of Stindl’s undeniable calibre would be a welcome alternative.
He may have gotten this far by being elusive and unnoticeable, but it’s time for Joachim Löw to pay attention to Lars Stindl.