Niclas Fullkrug is Germany’s World Cup cult hero: This gap-toothed throwback of a striker carries a country’s hopes now | Football News

Spain versus Germany was supposed to be the most technical game of the tournament so far. It was gate-crashed by a burly forward who saw no need for such subtlety and thundered in the equaliser. Niclas Fullkrug is a World Cup story to make you smile.

Neither side had selected a natural centre-forward. Alvaro Morata came on for Spain to provide the deft touch for the opening goal but Fullkrug brought something different entirely. He had more shots than anyone else despite coming on in the 69th minute.

A game that needed a striker. A country that needed a striker.

Niclas Fullkrug celebrates after he equalises for Germany
Niclas Fullkrug celebrates after his dramatic equaliser against Spain

Michael Ballack wants him to start the next game. Lothar Matthaus has been aboard that bandwagon for a while. His Werder Bremen team-mates are leading the campaign. “He is the best German striker we have,” says his club strike-partner Marvin Ducksch.

“If you want to play with a classic No 9 you can’t look past him,” argues Niklas Stark. Another makes a perceptive observation about the modern game. “He is the type of striker you don’t see often anymore, at least not in Germany,” says Leonardo Bittencourt.

For those who have followed the career of Fullkrug even longer than his team-mates, there is delight that he is enjoying this moment. Eleven days after becoming Germany’s oldest debutant in two decades, he has already become a World Cup cult hero.

There are those evoking the name of Salvatore Schillaci, the Italian striker who dominated the 1990 World Cup on home soil. In Germany, there is the sort of media frenzy that would have greeted Rickie Lambert had he gone supernova in South Africa in 2010.

Fullkrug, 29, has not quite come from working in a beetroot factory. He made his Bundesliga debut more than a decade ago. But this popular player with the gap-toothed grin – his nickname is Lucke, that’s gap in German – is exceeding most expectations right now.

But not all.

“It has been an amazing journey,” Gerhard Zuber tells Sky Sports.

Niclas Fullkrug as a young player at Werder Bremen first time around in 2013
Niclas Fullkrug as a young player at Werder Bremen first time around in 2013

“He is a very good finisher when one-on-one with the goalkeeper and also with his head he is one of the best in Europe, I think. In Germany, we do not have many No 9s. Therefore, it is not a big surprise for me because he is a player who has always worked hard.”

Zuber was the director of football at Hannover 96 during Fullkrug’s time at the club and the pair remain in touch, exchanging messages after his exploits against Spain. Everyone wants a piece of the in-form striker right now but Zuber was a fan when others were not.

Prior to Fullkrug finishing as the third-highest scorer in the Bundesliga in 2018, behind only Robert Lewandowski and Nils Pedersen, Zuber had to persuade his head coach to pick Germany’s new favourite in the promotion-winning season that preceded it.

“He was not playing. I asked the coach about it and he told me there were little problems. I told him that if you want to go to the Bundesliga then he has to play because he is one of the best strikers in the division. If you show confidence in him then he pays it back.

“It was the right decision to count on him. After that, he played more and more, scoring a very important goal in the derby against Braunschweig and we went up. Later on, there were injuries. That was his big problem. He could not play a season without injury.”

Niclas Fullkrug during his time as a striker for Hannover 96
Niclas Fullkrug pictured during his time as a striker for Hannover 96

It is tempting to see Fullkrug’s extraordinary rise as a freak tale but that scoring season in the Bundesliga with Hannover five years ago shows that the talent was always there. “We had a very good offer from Gladbach for €20m but we did not sell.”

He eventually returned to Werder Bremen after Hannover were relegated from the Bundesliga in 2019, but by that stage, his progress had been curtailed. Knee problems and niggles hampered him. Maybe all that he needed was a run of games.

“This is his main secret. When he is fit, he is one of the best around. Now he is doing that, but in the past, he had small injuries and when you are not playing every game you are not in the best shape. Momentum is the biggest advantage for him now.

“He is feeling good and you can see that with his shooting. That is very helpful. If you score goals then it gives you confidence and if you have confidence then you score goals. He has amazing physicality and he is doing everything he can to be in shape now.

“He is a character who wants to score every time. He does extra training sessions, always shooting. He is emotional but now he is in his late twenties he has become a father and is calmer and more relaxed because of his family. I think that is another secret.”

Niclas Fullkrug's touch map for Germany at the World Cup shows he is a box threat
Niclas Fullkrug’s touch map for Germany at the World Cup shows he is a box threat

Maturity has taken time. As recently as last year, that emotional side caused controversy. During the early part of last season, with Werder Bremen in the second division, he was suspended from training for three days following an outburst.

“Normally you would kick him out after what he said in the training sessions,” says Zuber. “He was not satisfied with the decisions and he was saying that out loud. Sometimes he is very emotional and he was very close to leaving Bremen because of this.”

His club took a more pragmatic approach and decided not to cut him loose. “It is not a big-money club so you have to think carefully when you take such decisions,” adds Zuber.

“They gave him a second chance and he took it.”

The same can be said of his fledgling international career. Given 45 minutes to impress against Oman, he scored the only goal of the game. Given even less time than that to salvage Germany’s World Cup campaign, he delivered once again.

That pre-tournament ankle injury to Timo Werner has opened a pathway for a player now striding purposefully down it with no limit on where it might lead. “If he scores against Costa Rica, he will be in the team for the rest of the World Cup, I think,” says Zuber.

Niclas Fullkrug is mobbed by his German team-mates after equalising
Niclas Fullkrug is mobbed by his German team-mates after equalising

“If that happens then you know that the price will start rising. Werder is important for him because he was there in their youth team but sometimes you have to take the next step. If he is performing like this then the good teams are always searching for these players.

“If I were Bayern Munich, I would sign him because he is that target player up front. Every team needs a player like him and Bayern do not have that profile of player. He would cost money but for Bayern or for clubs in the Premier League that is not a problem.”

That is for later. After breathing new life into his country’s campaign, Niclas Fullkrug’s World Cup story has only just begun. The Bundesliga player of the month for September and October has had an even better November. Who knows what December might bring?

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