Niclas Füllkrug has his eyes on a top-four finish and UEFA Champions League final berth with Borussia Dortmund. - © IMAGO/Weis/TEAM2sportphoto
Niclas Füllkrug has his eyes on a top-four finish and UEFA Champions League final berth with Borussia Dortmund. - © IMAGO/Weis/TEAM2sportphoto

Borussia Dortmund's Niclas Füllkrug on RB Leipzig clash and UEFA Champions League final dream


Niclas Füllkrug is gearing up for a defining week in Borussia Dortmund's season, with crucial fixtures against top-four rivals RB Leipzig and UEFA Champions League semi-final opponents Paris Saint-Germain just around the corner. caught up with BVB's top scorer with 15 competitive goals in 2023/24, ahead of their trip to Leipzig's Red Bull Arena... How annoying was the late equaliser against Leverkusen?

Niclas Füllkrug: "Yes, it was tough, and of course in the moment it was a really humbling feeling. I also gave interviews afterwards where I was very, very positive about the game, because that emotion tricks your own perception. I was so in the mode of 'I want to win this game', that I really saw a few things differently than they might have been in reality. I still think, though, that we made the new German champions, who are unbeaten in 45 games leave our stadium at 1-1 with a huge smile on their faces, because they were lucky not to lose.

"We earned that situation, even if it didn’t always look attractive. They’re a team that play very dominant football and I think we managed, especially in the first half, even though we wanted to press higher but didn't always manage it, we still managed to concede very little. That shows a certain ability to suffer and a certain patience, which we brought with us and in the second half we even got into pressing moments more often. I thought we had a great chance to score in the first half, of course, but we scored in the second half and also had two more good opportunities. Of course, you can't deny that Leverkusen also had two opportunities, but I thought we basically managed to nullify their strengths relatively well. That always helps you get a good result. Nevertheless, as you've already mentioned, it was an absolutely humbling feeling after the game to concede such a late goal." Is it true that the next game might not be so different?

Füllkrug: "No, no, it will be very different. Leipzig are a team that create a lot of counter-attacking situations. They do play some possession football, but generally they prefer dynamic attacks to permanently forcing the opposition into their own half. They have a completely different profile of player, and a different formation on the pitch. Leverkusen always play a three-man or five-man back line, Leipzig often play in a back four. Most of the time if I remember correctly. That's why it will be a completely different game now, compared to

 Leverkusen. In my opinion it will be much more open, it will be much more dynamic, it will be more back and forth and I think it will be about having a lot of control."

Watch: How do Leipzig and Dortmund compare?

 >>> Click here for all things Leipzig vs. Dortmund! How big a difference does it make for a striker whether you play against a back four or a back three?

Füllkrug: "A big difference, very big. It is very big, especially inside the box, of course, when we break through on the outside or when we play crosses. With a back three you always have three big centre-backs at the back in the box, even sometimes in the six-yard box, defending against you. That's a big difference. Against a back four you're always moving between two players and have other defenders who have to move and adjust. Against a back three you usually have a clear opponent who is the central centre-back, if you are playing with one centre-forward, and it's a big difference. Both have advantages and disadvantages for me." You were very open about your desire to reach the Champions League final. Now you're in the last four...

Füllkrug:"No, it's not open, it's just logical. In the end you know that if you get to the semi-finals, there won't be any walkovers. We didn't have any walkovers in this Champions League season anyway, we only had really, really good opponents, top European teams in my opinion. Even Eindhoven, who are destroying everyone in the league and playing a top season, were a very difficult opponent in my opinion. Not to be underestimated at all.

"And yet, if you get to the semi-finals, you don't want to stop there, you don't want to say that's it and that's why I said that. There's no point in thinking about what the goal is now. There's also no point in talking about who the opponent is because you have to try and somehow go out there and leave at the end with more goals scored than Paris. Yes, to get to the Champions League final at the end, yes, that would be pretty cool." You then went on to say that it's important to realise that it's something special that you're now in the UCL semi-finals. Why was that important to you?

Füllkrug: "Because I think that sometimes gets forgotten. Of course, as Dortmund's No.9, you have to deliver a certain number of goals. That's important to be successful, to be good as a team, but I think it's about an overall construct, it's the overall team performance, the service you get and then how you utilise your finishes and take advantage of your situation. I think we simply have room for improvement in many areas.

"I actually always look at myself and know that I'm critical of myself and want to score even more goals than I have now, but as I said, you have to be realistic about the situation. I think most newspapers or journalists categorised me as a back-up here when I made the transfer. Since then, apart from two games in which I think I was rested or in which we rotated a bit, I've started every game. I've started every Champions League game since then, apart from the first one where I was relatively new and I'm very grateful for that.

"I'm very happy that aligns with my own view, because I'm a positive person and focus on the positive things, but the most important thing is that the team is successful and that we are successful as a whole. I want to contribute to that, preferably with goals, with assists. If I’m in a difficult phase, then I try to help the team through hard work and the most important thing is that we are successful as a team. It's not always about me, it's about Borussia Dortmund as a club and that's what I wanted to express in that moment." Have you ever stopped and thought, 'It's amazing what I've achieved!'?

Füllkrug: "No, I'm always relatively relaxed about it. I think the progress is considerable, I think that this was a bit out of reach four years ago, of course. But somehow, I was always sure that I could play at this level and that I could bring that to bear on the pitch. I've faced a lot of roadblocks in my career and that's why it was difficult for me to prove that I could do it in the long term with a certain consistency and now I've been able to do that for the last three years. Yeah, that is something which leads to celebrating big achievements." But players deal with it very differently, don't they?

Füllkrug: "I'm also normally a friend of humility, but I don't think the situation has anything to do with me being overconfident, it's logical for me. It has nothing to do with being open or emotional, for me it's logic that you want to progress. OK, yes, you can understand that. I think it's different if you say in the round of 16 that the goal is Wembley than if you say it before the semi-final. That's what I mean by that."

Watch: Dortmund's moment of truth On the subject of logic, does it also have something to do with the fact that it was always logical for you that you would make the breakthrough at some point with your qualities?

Füllkrug: "Yes, I don't think it's a coincidence that I often put up double figures in my younger years too, whether it was in the second or first division. I was also always involved in the national team from U18 onwards, except for U21, because I had that setback then. I don't think that was a coincidence, but of course I've also learnt very well over the course of my career how to deal with the things that cause me problems.

"How do I take my body to the next level, how do I train, what's good for me? What I've improved on a lot in the last four years is my hard work, training time, dedication and recovery. That has certainly taken me to another level physically. The doubters weren’t quiet before the season either. Not many thought I'd be able to compete internationally in terms of physical fitness and I think I’m now at almost 50 games with the national team in April. I don't know if many would have expected that and we're just keep marching on." When would you say you became a seasoned Bundesliga player?

Füllkrug: "I don't know. After the year at Hannover 96 when I was 23 or 24 perhaps. I played quite a lot of games for Werder Bremen as a young player, where I often only came on as a substitute and then I got promoted out of the second division with 96 and scored 14 goals in my first year in the first division after a two- or three-year break. I think you can call yourself a Bundesliga player when you score 14 goals." Were you still a bit under the radar back then?

Füllkrug: "Back then I wasn't so under the radar. Back then it was still... I think I scored the third most goals in the Bundesliga back then, I wasn't that under the radar. After that I just got injured again and that was quite a big one, so I was a bit under the radar again and then it's difficult. It's always interesting when you can back up your performances and that was difficult at the time." Did you sometimes have the feeling recently that the expectations of you in the national team and at BVB were a little exaggerated?

Füllkrug: "No, I don't perceive it as extreme, I'm always very relaxed with myself and always try to be very, very balanced. That's important for me, as is that I perceive what's happening in my head as more important than what's happening around me. Because perceptions simply change. That's today's society, it's always higher, faster, further and accordingly the perception changes, the demands change, the expectations change, but that's also normal. You have to cope with these external influences in our profession, in our job, and that's why I've never had a problem with that, I've always coped well with it." On the other hand, was it nice to have finally reached a top level?

Füllkrug: "Yes, of course, expectations increase, I think you can feel that too. It's always a question of where you come from. When I joined the national team, I got plaudits for every goal and so on, and now at some point it's taken for granted that the No.9 for Germany will score and that's obviously a difference in perception. In the end it doesn't affect my performance.

"At the end of the day, it's just about me being on the pitch to help the team. Everything around it is a show, it's made for the spectator. What we're doing now is made for the spectator, it's not for me as an athlete so that I can play better. I think you have to make a distinction in football, there's the sport, but the sport itself is simply not enough for many spectators because the entertainment around it is very interesting: The expert opinions, the interviews, the headlines, everything. That goes with the territory, but it's not something that influences my performance." Does your experience help you?

Füllkrug: "Exactly, yes. I can only ever talk about myself, so I'm not talking about players in general, there are certainly different views, but my view is like that and you simply have to make a distinction. Both are important for football, because I think viewers find it all much more interesting. And yes, it's becoming more and more topical, there are more and more opinions, there are always technical things that are interesting, also less technical things, but let's ignore them for now. That's my view of things."

Füllkrug has scored 12 goals after the first 30 matches of the 2023/24 Bundesliga season. - IMAGO/osnapix / Titgemeyer How close do you feel to your home town of Ricklingen in Hannover?

Füllkrug: "Yes, I'm from Ricklingen in Hannover. Almost everyone from Hannover goes back at some point, because you're very attached to your home and that will certainly be the case for me. We also have the idea of returning after my career, my wife, my daughter and I. I still feel very connected to Hannover, I'm no longer so active at the club, but of course it's also home and I still have ties to it." Is it true that the name Füllkrug has always stood for football at home in Ricklingen?

Füllkrug: "Yes, yes, exactly. Ever since my grandfather actually, who also played in the second league back then. At that time the regional league was still the second league. My father was very present, especially as a coach in youth football in Hanover. He was very involved in the club and coached my team, then coached two other teams. And my sister played for the club, my cousins played for the club and that's why we were always relatively well represented there as a family." Is it difficult when your father is your own coach?

Füllkrug: "It was all good. It has all worked out well." But your own burger is no longer available in your favourite burger joint, is it?

Füllkrug: "Yes, the burger is no longer available. Yes, well, I no longer wear the number 24, so the 'NF24' is no longer available, but I think people still order it sometimes. I'm still in contact with a mate of mine who owns the place, and yes, it's definitely the tastiest burger in the shop. The people who go there regularly know it and it was a good creation of mine."