Football is filled with tales of triumph over adversity, of overcoming obstacles on the way to the top, but few players can have needed quite as much persistence as Schalke striker, and new Germany international, Mark Uth.
Having finally made the breakthrough at Hoffenheim, the 26-year-old is set for a shot at the big time with Domenico Tedesco's rejuvenated Royal Blues propelling him into the German national team. But who is Uth exactly? bundesliga.com has the scoop.
Mark of the goat
Born and raised in Cologne, Uth harboured dreams of playing at the football-crazy city's biggest club, 1. FC Köln. He was spotted by the Billy Goats' scouts early on and worked his way up the youth system until, at the age of 19, he was promoted to the senior squad for the 2011/12 Bundesliga season, playing alongside club legend Lukas Podolski and future Germany international Jonas Hector.
Yet what initially seemed like the realisation of a childhood dream swiftly turned out to be a painful wake-up call for the young striker. In addition to the fierce competition for a starting spot up front, Uth suffered a serious injury in the middle of the season that restricted his contribution to just four matches as an unused substitute. To make matters worse, the team’s eventual relegation also made for an uncertain future.
Uth was left with a difficult decision to make. Stay in his comfort zone at his boyhood club and fight for a place in the side, or move elsewhere in search of regular football. The forward opted for the latter, although he did not go down the well-trodden path of seeking out a second-tier club in Germany; instead he joined Dutch first division outfit Heerenveen.
The Icelandic goal-getter, two years Uth's senior, hit the ground running and scored 24 goals in his maiden season, forcing the young German to spend most of the campaign with the reserves, while earning just three appearances with the first team. A similarly slow start the next year prompted Uth to moved on loan to fellow Eredivisie side Heracles, where he eventually began to find his footing.
The home of hope
Finally, at age of 22, he scored his first top-flight goal and went on to find the net a further seven times in 2013/14. This was enough to persuade Heerenveen to recall Uth for the following campaign and his upward trajectory continued as he hit 15 goals to finish as the top-scoring foreigner in the league that season.
“Even though I went through some tough times in the Netherlands, I never doubted myself,” said Uth. “I was relegated to the stands at the beginning and played very little. It was tough, but I pulled myself out of the hole. I always believed it was possible and gave it everything, and it paid off in the end.”
It certainly did, as Uth's exertions swayed Hoffenheim to sign him in the summer of 2015. Nevertheless, despite returning to his homeland, the striker had to navigate rough waters once again as Markus Gisdol's charges were slow out of the blocks, winning only one of their first ten games. Gisdol was eventually replaced by Huub Stevens, who fielded Uth primarily as a substitute before a twist of fate changed the destinies of both player and club.
Health complications forced Stevens to resign in February 2016 and Hoffenheim made the bold decision to appoint 28-year-old Julian Nagelsmann - who was due to take the reigns the following season - with the task of saving the club from relegation. At the time, Hoffenheim were 17th in the table with 14 games to go, having only won two matches up to that point. Under Nagelsmann, the youngest head coach in the history of the Bundesliga, the squad drew fresh motivation and Uth played a key role in the team ultimately avoiding the drop.
Moment of (tr)uth
Hoffenheim staved off relegation with seven wins, one draw and five losses in their do-or-die run-in. Uth, who had only scored once prior to Nagelsmann’s appointment and had been shifted around various positions, found a home on the right side of an attacking trident to finish the season with eight goals.
More than his ability to find the net, however, Uth's experience in dealing with years of setbacks also proved crucial to the team. “When [Nagelsmann] arrived we were threatened with relegation,” he explained. “I enjoyed being able to make the others laugh through this. That’s just my nature, it’s just how I am."
His coach concurred. “He was always happy to be on the pitch”, said Nagelsmann. “He was always able to transmit this joy to other players even though he seems a bit shy. This makes him an important figure for the team in ways that go beyond the on-field aspects football.” That mutual trust and confidence provided the foundation for two subsequent seasons in which Hoffenheim and Uth reached previously unimaginable heights.
In 2016/17, Hoffenheim left their relegation worries firmly behind them and challenged the established Bundesliga elite before finishing the season in fourth place, enough for a ticket to the UEFA Champions League qualification play-offs. Uth scored seven league goals in a season again interrupted by injuries - but the best was yet to come.
Watch: Mark Uth's top 5 Bundesliga goals!
Touch of Tedesco
Now free of niggles and with a thorough grasp of Nagelsmann's demands as coach, Uth became a lethal member of a fearsome Hoffenheim front line, registering 14 goals and seven assists to help propel the club to a third-place finish, their highest-ever final placing in the Bundesliga. That kind of success naturally attracted the interested of a number of suitors for the forward, whose contract in Sinsheim expired in summer 2018.
Schalke proved to be the most attractive next destination. "I wanted to take the next step,” Uth told spox.com. “I believe Schalke is the right place to do it. It was also vital in my decision that the club is quite close to Cologne, my home city where my friends and family live. The club’s tradition also attracted me, the fact that there are so many fans behind the team was very tempting. That’s why I decided to sign for Schalke without much hesitation.”
It is easy to see why the Royal Blues were interested in the services of one of the most clinical finishers in Germany. Although Schalke were disciplined, organised and tactically flexible in their first season under Tedesco in 2017/18, deservedly finishing as runners-up behind Bayern Munich, they scored the fewest goals of all teams in the top six with just 53.
Guido Burgstaller was Schalke's top scorer with 11 goals, but the fact that centre-back Naldo(seven) and wing-back Daniel Caligiuri (six) were the next highest scorers underlines just why the Royal Blues have brought in Uth.
In his seven Bundesliga matches so far - four starts - Uth has failed to register a goal in Royal Blue, but has claimed one assist. His cold patch has not fallen on his shoulders alone, with Schalke only recently finding form, winning their first game of the season on Matchday 6, and now enjoying a run of three consecutive wins in all competitions.
His selection in Joachim Löw's squad has been long overdue considering his form at Hoffenheim, but even Uth was not expecting to be joining the Germany team this month. When asked how he found out about his selection, Uth explained that he was out preparing for the German winter.
"I wanted to buy wood for my fireplace, but then I left the shop, ran to the car and called my family," explained Uth on what he did when Löw gave him a call. Once the floodgates do open with his goalscoring in 2018/19 - which could come for Germany in the upcoming Nations League matches - Uth will surely have no time to buy firewood during international breaks again.