Three years after a knee injury derailed his career, Nico Schulz has made his Germany debut. His was a performance marked by highs and lows, but it seems to have been good enough for Joachim Löw to give him another look.
Nico Schulz's international debut, in Germany's 2-1 win over Peru on Sunday, wasn't perfect, but it was memorable. Along with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the Hoffenheim defender was at fault on Peru's lone goal. He turned the ball over to Jefferson Farfan before missing a standing tackle on Luis Avincula, who scored at ter Stegen's near post.
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However, the 25-year-old atoned for his mistakes the late winner on a strike from outside the area that Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese should have saved.
"That goal only goes in at home," Schulz, who was playing in his club's home stadium in Sinsheim, told private broadcaster RTL afterwards.
But the performance appears to have been good enough for head coach Joachim Löw to give him another look.
"It is not always easy in an international debut. The player is always a bit nervous, it's different from everyday life in the Bundesliga," Löw said. "I'm happy that he scored the goal. He could have cleared the ball on the goal we conceded, but I'm satisfied with his overall performance."
However, given where he's come from, just making his international debut must have been more than satisfactory for Schulz, as it came almost three years after a knee injury temporarily derailed what had been a promising career.
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Fifteen years at Hertha
Born in Berlin, Schulz joined Hertha's youth program in 2000. A pacey winger with a strong left foot, his talent quickly drew the attention of Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Liverpool and Manchester United, but he elected to stay in Berlin.
He made his first-team debut for Hertha in the German Cup at just 17. He went on to make 98 appearances for the club over the next five seasons, playing as a left winger and on the left side of defense.
Schulz also broke into the national team program at a young age, making 51 appearances for Germany at the under-16 to under-21 levels.
Failure with the Foals
In the summer of 2015, Schulz moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he would struggle to break into the squad before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a friendly against Duisburg in October.
He rarely saw the field upon his return at the start of the following season, stuck behind veteran Oscar Wendt on the defensive depth chart. It was only after Wendt suffered an elbow injury that Schulz got a chance to play — scoring once and assisting twice in the Foals' final four league games.
Hope at Hoffenheim
This four-game stretch was enough to convince Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann and sporting director Alexander Rosen to take a chance on Schulz in the summer of 2017.
At the time, Rosen said Schulz had "the exact profile that we were looking for to make our squad more variable" and was "an optimal alternative for the left side, both as a defender and as an offensive midfielder."
Although he only played in Europa League fixtures to start the season, he eventually convinced Nagelsmann to give him more regular playing time. By the end of the campaign, he was starting nearly every game and contributing at both ends of the field.
After Schulz scored in a 3-0 Hoffenheim win over Wolfsburg in March, Nagelsmann told German sports publication Kicker that "if he continues to develop this way, he will be an absolute pillar for us."
So far this season, Schulz seems to have picked up where he left off, starting in both of Hoffenheim's Bundesliga matches and chipping in a goal and a couple of assists in their 6-1 drubbing of third-tier Kaiserslautern in the first round of the German Cup.
On Löw's radar
And after Sunday's performance at home in Sinsheim, Schulz also seems to have put himself on Joachim Löw's radar — even if he's far from alone.
"We have to vary our wing positions. It depends on the opponent — [Matthias] Ginter, Schulz, [Marcel] Halstenberg, maybe [Philipp] Max from Augsburg, who had a good season last year," the national team coach said.