Nico Schlotterbeck was one of the new names to feature in Hansi Flick's first squad as Germany coach, fresh off the back of being crowned a European U21 champion. But who exactly is the Freiburg centre-back?
bundesliga.com has the lowdown on the 22-year-old defender on the brink of representing the four-time world champions…
Country: Germany (13 U21 caps, three goals)
Schlotterbeck was born in Waiblingen, just outside of Stuttgart, but never actually played for local giants VfB. Instead he came through the youth academy of former Bundesliga club Stuttgarter Kickers up to U15 level. He slowly moved further from home, spending a year in the academy at VfR Aalen before joining Karlsruhe in 2015. He was three months shy of his 16th birthday when handed his debut in the U17 Bundesliga, and not even 17 when he stepped up to the U19 division in 2016/17. It was during that season that the emerging centre-back earned his first international call-up for Meikel Schönweitz's U18s in a 3-0 win over Austria.
A summer 2017 move to Freiburg followed, where he lifted the U19 DFB Cup in his debut campaign. The 6'2" defender was immediately promoted to the reserves in the fourth tier after that, but would also make his Bundesliga debut in the same 2018/19 season as a half-time substitute for Philipp Lienhart on Matchday 25 against Hertha Berlin. He'd be handed his first senior start only four games later away at Werder Bremen and would again play 90 minutes two weeks on against RB Leipzig. He was promoted to the first team full time in 2019/20 but was sent out on loan to Union Berlin in 2020/21 to gain senior match practice. He scored on his Bundesliga debut for the club, and would go on to become one of Die Eisernen’s first-choice centre-backs as they ultimately qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League in seventh place.
That form earned him a place in Stefan Kuntz's UEFA Euro U21 squad in 2021, playing every single minute as Germany lifted the title. Now back at Freiburg, he's become a constant at centre-back and helped the team claim third-place at the end of the 2021/22 Hinrunde. Key to that has been their defensive record that is equal-best in the league alongside Bayern Munich (17 goals conceded) and Schlotterbeck ranks third-highest league-wide for most won challenges (199) after 17 matches. Experience at both clubs has seen the 22-year-old become adept at playing in both a back four and a three, something which was part of the appeal for Flick to select him for the senior national team for the first time in the September internationals.
Plays a bit like: Mats Hummels
Schlotterbeck has four senior goals - two in 2021/22 alone at the halfway stage of the season - and proved at youth level that he has an eye for a strike, having scored 14 times across two seasons in the U19 Bundesliga. His maiden top-flight goal was a brilliantly timed and perfectly placed looping header from a corner. It's that presence in the box - both penalty areas for that matter - that has become a hallmark of Hummels' illustrious career with Borussia Dortmund, Bayern and also Germany, having won the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
Watch: The best of Schlotterbeck in the Bundesliga
Both have proven themselves adept playing in three or four-man defences, stepping out when needed as a demonstration of their reading of the game and timing. Flick will surely have spoken with U21 boss Kuntz and likely sees Schlotterbeck as a left-footed future Hummels.
Did you know?
Nico is not the only Schlotterbeck in the Freiburg squad or to have spent a season on loan at Union. Brother Keven - three years his senior - was in Berlin for the 2019/20 campaign, where he established himself after breaking through at Freiburg in the second half of the previous year.
The two brothers have played in the same team seven times in the Bundesliga and have actually opposed each other on three occasions. Twice it was Nico and Freiburg against Keven and Union in 2019/20, while the most recent was Nico with Union against Keven and Freiburg last season. And while Nico was at the U21 Euros over the summer, Keven was with the Olympic squad at Tokyo 2020.
What they're saying
"Left-footed, a player you obviously want to see playing at centre-back but is also very versatile and can play in different positions. He can play in a back three but also, because of his footballing quality, can play in midfield." - Hansi Flick on giving Schlotterbeck his maiden senior call-up
“It's positive that he's with Germany because he can learn a lot... and if he continues like this, he will surely persevere and get the reward. I’m very happy with him.” - Freiburg coach Christian Streich on Schlotterbeck’s call-up