Any footballer who plays with speed, talent, technique and heart is bound to catch the eye of Borussia Dortmund. From this season onward, Nico Schulz is set to inject even more pace into the Black & Yellows' play with his dynamic runs down the left-wing. ''Having the chance to move to such a big team, to a genuine title contender - I didn’t have to think about it for even a second. I think that my style of play will fit in really well with the team,'' said the former Hoffenheim player after completing his move to the Strobelallee. The left-back is particularly excited about lining up in front of the yellow wall: ''Coming here to play against BVB has always been a special experience for me. I think that’s something any player will tell you. It’s one of the most stunning stadiums in Europe, there’s an incredible atmosphere at every game. I’m delighted that I can now call it home.''
The native Berliner first learnt to play football at BSC Rehberge, a club based in the Wedding area of the city. At just seven years of age, Schulz caught the eye of scouts from Hertha BSC, meaning that, from the summer of 2000 onward, he was able to enjoy a first-rate footballing education at the biggest club in the capital. In 2008, he even attracted the attention of Liverpool FC; but for the young Schulz, a move to England was never a serious possibility: ''I was still just a boy at 15. It would have been too big a move for me.''
So it was that he stayed in Berlin. Before long, he was representing his country at every age group from U15 upwards and on 20 August 2010, at just 17 years of age, he made his debut for the Hertha first team in a 2. Bundesliga match-up with Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. After notching up a total of 98 appearances for the Berlin-based club, Schulz moved to VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer of 2015, for whom he contested his first game on Matchday 5 of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season. Funnily enough, this was current BVB head coach Lucien Favre’s last game in charge of Gladbach. Not long afterwards, Schulz suffered a cruciate ligament tear and then struggled to establish himself in the side managed by Favre’s successor André Schubert.
Schulz moved to TSG Hoffenheim in 2017, where he managed to get his career back on an upward trajectory. The left-back soon became one of the driving forces behind the Kraichgau-based club’s high-octane football. TSG managed to end the season with a club record third-place finish, thus securing a first-ever qualification for the UEFA Champions League. German football magazine kicker named Schulz the best full-back of the 2017/18 season: ''With his incredible physicality, dynamism and speed, Schulz was a top performer week in, week out. The kind of full-back capable of playing shutdown defence while also setting the tone going forward.'' Schulz continued his momentum into the following season, in which he earned an average rating of 2.88 from kicker magazine - tied with Jadon Sancho for the fifth-highest among outfield players in the league and only five hundredths of a percentage point away from the top. ''I’ve played pretty consistently over the past year and a half,'' said Schulz.
With this remarkable consistency, the man with Italian roots - his father was born on the island of Ischia - not only played himself into the sights of Borussia Dortmund, but also into the Germany international team. He won his first cap on 9 September 2018, coming on as a substitute to score the decisive 84th minute goal in a 2-1 win over Peru. Speaking after the match, coach Joachim Löw was full of praise for the debutant: "Nico radiates energy. I think he can really come into his own with us." A further highlight of his Germany career came in a Euro qualifying match away to the Netherlands in Amsterdam, in which he combined with Dortmund luminaries Ilkay Gündogan and Marco Reus to score a 90th minute goal that wrapped up a famous 3-2 win for Die Mannschaft.
Nico Schulz certainly has pace to burn: he was recorded hitting speeds of 34.83 km/h last season. Although this meant he was "only" the 13th-fastest player in the league, a closer look at the stats shows that this was no ''one-off sprint'': some players only hit such high speeds in exceptional circumstances, such as with a tailwind or when going down the slight slope at Freiburg's ground. This certainly wasn’t the case for Schulz, who - alongside Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz - was one of the only players to be able to hit such speeds over and over again. Over the course of the whole season, future teammates Jadon Sancho (league-high figure of 20.97km) Thorgan Hazard, Marco Reus and two others were the only players to cover more ground in sprints than Schulz (17.74km). When it came to number of total sprints, Schulz, who notched up 809, was only surpassed by eight players, among them Jadon Sancho (1,017 sprints, third in the league) and Hazard (867).
''I’ve never specifically worked on speed. It’s just something I was born with,'' says Schulz: ''As a quick left-footer, it was clear from a young age that I’d be well-suited to playing on the left-wing. I often used to play higher up the park, on the left side of midfield for example, but I always found that I was better off lining up as part of a back four.'' Fortunately for Nico, that’s exactly where he can expect to play for Borussia Dortmund.