He once had a tooth wedged in his head, counts ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as his favourite motivational song and with his current Bundesliga goalscoring exploits, is making Germany coach Joachim Löw ponder. Welcome to the wonderful world of Hannover striker, Niclas Füllkrug.
If the aim this season is all about Bundesliga survival, then Die Roten – or the Reds – are sitting pretty right now. For a side many feared would struggle following promotion back to the German top flight last summer, Hannover floating around the mid-table mark two games into the second half of the season sits just fine with fans of the team.
Indeed, as opposed to being overawed, Andre Breitenreiter’s men were burning it up on their return to the big time, with striker Martin Harnik leading the way. The Austrian’s five goals in seven outings even saw the Lower-Saxony based outfit sitting among Bundesliga royalty in the Champions League box seats at one point.
Watch: Füllkrug among Germany's World Cup dark horses
Yet injuries and illness combined to halt Harnik’s run, and led to the focus falling on forward Füllkrug, who had previously failed to find the net in his opening eight Bundesliga games. “It was a pity that I didn’t score in those first matches but I expected that. I knew I wasn’t immediately going to tear up the Bundesliga like an Aubameyang or a Lewandowski," the 24-year-old said in a recent interview with sportbuzzer.de. “For me the goal was always to be playing in the Bundesliga again, because I feel that I belong here," he added.
Of that there is now no doubt. Füllkrug’s Matchday 9 double away to Augsburg – that included a last-minute winner – after coming on as a second-half substitute, helped Hannover to a come-from-behind win. Coach Breitenreiter continued to remain cautious, however, fielding his No.24 a further four times as a sub after that. On the last of those occasions, the forward netted to help Hannover to a point at home to Stuttgart. Füllkrug has started every game since, taking his top-flight total this term to nine.
“He’s on a mega-run,” Breitenreiter told Kicker. He’s been steadily developing his game since March and was always full of belief that he would make it into the starting eleven. All of his efforts are bearing fruit,” the tactician continued. “Let’s give him the run he deserves; it wouldn’t be right to slow him down now, he’s handling the limelight so well.”
The limelight now squared firmly upon him, alarm bells almost certainly began sounding at official Germany headquarters when the Hannover native scored a stunning hat-trick last month to rescue his teammates from a desperate situation. Trailing Mainz by 2-0 at home shortly after the half-hour mark, Füllkrug levelled the contest before half time, and then added the winning goal inside the last 15 minutes.
Of the celebrations afterward, the striker said, “It was a great evening. I was completely relaxed with my wife Lisa and a couple of friends eating; I enjoyed that.” His post-match soiree may have been tame by some standards, but the in-form forward felt it important not to get carried away by the occasion. “It goes on and on, the games continue to come,” he said. “It’s not the same as when we celebrated promotion as there was obviously a break after that so you could let your hair down a bit. For me, it's just important that my development continues."
Watch: Füllkrug and THAT famous Mainz hat-trick.
That development began at Werder Bremen’s youth setup – where he once ended up with the tooth of his teammate wedged in his forehead following an accidental, but nonetheless nasty, training ground collision. “That was insane,” Füllkrug recalled. “It was very dangerous because of a threat of infection due to the bacteria. We both had to go to hospital, [but thankfully] everything was put right and cleaned up."
A top scorer with Werder’s Under-17s, the determined forward made his Bundesliga debut with the River Islanders in 2012 and went on to gain more playing experience at Greuther Fürth and Nuremburg, before returning home to Hannover. Admitting that he still needs to improve certain facets of his game, “My first touch and passing,” Füllkrug is reluctant to be drawn into a debate surrounding whether he deserves a shot at going to this summer’s FIFA World Cup finals with his country.
“Of course it’s cool when you hear the name Jogi Löw mentioned in the same breath as you,” the former Germany U18, U19 and U20 marksman said. “As a footballer, the biggest thing you can do is to play for your country. I was always proud when I was called up by the DFB [German Football Association] in my youth,” he continued. “[Playing for Germany] is the dream, but I’m keeping my feet on the ground. We already have a great national team so I don’t need to be talking up my chances; that’s not the way I am. I just need to consistently do my work on the pitch.”
For now, the most immediate challenge for Füllkrug is Sunday’s Bundesliga test against struggling Hamburg. Should he need a little pumping up before the encounter, there would be no better tune for one of the Bundesliga’s top scorers this term to listen to at the Volksparkstion than Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. “That’s the most motivational song I ever heard,” the player nicknamed Lücke - or Gap - on account of his distinctive front teeth, told Hannover’s website.
“When I was a kid in Ricklingen, my dad was a coach and we used to hear that song in the dressing-room and as kids it always made us push ourselves that much more.” For Füllkrug, the thrill of the fight has helped him to achieve a thus far knock-out season with Hannover.