“I deliberately chose to take this step – for the club, the team and the fans. I'm a player who needs the fans. We really missed them during the coronavirus pandemic. The Bundesliga has the best fans in the world. That's why it's fun to play in any stadium. And in Dortmund, there are more than 80,000 fans in the stands. That's a massive amount," he told the Borussia members' magazine in September 2022, having opened a new chapter in a career that has so far been a meteoric rise in Dortmund just a few weeks earlier. In June 2021, he became a European champion with the Germany U21s team, in March 2022, he made his debut in the senior national team, and in May 2022, he played in the cup final against Leipzig with his former club Freiburg (ultimately losing on penalties).
"Amid interest from a lot of clubs, Nico didn't pick the most financially lucrative offer, but rather chose BVB in order to further his development as a footballer. We are very pleased that we were able to convince Nico of the path we are on, and that he made a clear commitment to Borussia Dortmund by signing a long-term contract," stressed sporting director Sebastian Kehl.
He settled in quickly at Dortmund. He won 67 percent of his duels – the best of all regular starters in the Bundesliga in 2022/23. He was also in the top ten of players who most often won the ball for their team. Yet defending is not his only strength: the 23-year-old likes to get on the ball often (88 times per 90 minutes – the best at BVB), plays good long balls and diagonal passes (passing success rate: 89%) and is a real threat from set-pieces. At free kicks, he often lurks at the far post, either to get a header on goal or to play it back across the goal for his teammates. He posted four goals and five assists in 2022/23 – an excellent return for a centre-back.
Nico Schlotterbeck comes from a family of footballers. "I used to play tennis too – and I was really talented," he revealed, "but at some point, I had to choose between football and tennis. For me, it was a very easy decision." His uncle Niels played for several clubs in the Bundesliga in the 1980s and 1990s (Stuttgarter Kickers, MSV Duisburg, Hansa Rostock), and Nico played alongside his older brother Keven, 26, during his time in Freiburg. "My parents try to keep us grounded. And they emphasise the fact that we are not better people just because we are famous."
From the age of eight to 15, Nico played for the Stuttgarter Kickers, but was not accepted into the U16s team. Instead, Schlotterbeck took a step back, played for VfR Aalen for a year, then joined Karlsruher SC, where he played in the U17s and U19s Bundesliga. In the summer of 2017, he moved to SC Freiburg. There, he first played in the U19s and then celebrated his senior Bundesliga debut on 9 March 2019 in a 2-1 home win against Hertha Berlin. In the summer of 2020, Nico made the same move as his brother Keven had a year earlier: he went out on loan to Union Berlin and played his way into the team – mostly on the left of a three-man backline – and, as his team's most successful tackler, played a big part in Union securing qualification for the UEFA Conference League as the seventh-placed team in the table. Instead of competing in Europe, however, it was back to Freiburg as agreed. At the end of the season, the team finished sixth in the league and reached the cup final.
Nico's first big role model was Fabio Cannavaro. “The 2006 World Cup was the first one I watched. He was the player who stood out the most in my position and became my role model at the time. In recent years, the top defenders at home in Germany have been Mats Hummels, Niklas Süle and Jerome Boateng. I looked up to them too. I'm quite happy to be playing with two of the three.“