Schurrle: Germany can do something special
The story of Germany international Andre Schurrle reads more like a fairytale than a curriculum vitae, the only difference being that the likeable forward's journey from talented youngster to established pro is 100 per cent non-fiction.
Just two years after celebrating the 2009 German A Youth Championship with Mainz, Schurrle earned a move to UEFA Champions League contestants Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of around €10m, making him the most expensive 19-year-old ever to move within the Bundesliga.
"Every player has to find their own path and obviously you have to make a lot of sacrifices from a very young age," Schurrle told FIFA.com. "You also have to have the desire, and enjoy it enough to punish yourself every day in order to improve. I found my way and trained as much as I possibly could."
The 20-year-old belongs to a multitude of promising young German players who have risen from nowhere to win multilateral praise at both domestic and international level over the past 12 months. One explanation for the quantity and quality of emerging German talent was offered by Schurrle himself.
"I think it's got a lot to do with the DFB scouting system that was introduced around ten years ago," he said. "Talented players are spotted early and given both individual and team coaching. Clubs are promoting youth work and it's certainly something I benefited from greatly."
The blonde goal-getter hasn't had everything his own way since moving from modest Mainz to last season's Bundesliga runners-up. With eight matches played so far this term, the Die Werkself currently occupy ninth spot in the table and bowed out of the German Cup to second division outfit Dynamo Dresden.
Schurrle said: "I've still got plenty of room for improvement. Our form so far this season has been patchy. We've set some ambitious targets and with our team, we should be challenging at the top of the table.
"At the end of the day we're only three points short of where we want to be, because of the defeat to Cologne. Going out of the German Cup was also difficult to swallow and that played on our minds for a while. We just need to find a little more consistency."
Schurrle nonetheless insists he feels right as rain in his new home, even if he is yet to rediscover the form which made him a household name in Germany over the past two campaigns. Having been one of they key reasons behind Mainz's surprise ascent into Europe last term, he has yet to score in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen and was even shown a red card against rivals Cologne.
"You can tell that Leverkusen are a top top club," he explained. "In Mainz it was all very familial and a bit smaller, although very professional all the same. At Bayer it's all a bit bigger, if only because of the star names in our squad."
In Europe, Bayer remain on course for a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League. After a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea in their opening Group E match, Robin Dutt's side overcame Belgian side Genk 2-0 and currently sit second in the section's standings. Victory over Valencia on 19 October would go a long way to securing the 2002 finalists a place in the last 16. For Schurrle, making his European debut at Stamford Bridge was the realisation of a childhood dream.
"The match at Chelsea was incredible," he enthused. "I'd always dreamed of it. I remember sitting on the couch with my parents, listening to the Champions League anthem on the television and knowing I wanted to be there one day. Aside from the World Cup, the Champions League is the greatest. It was a very special moment for me to play in London."
High hopes with Germany
A similarly emotional day was 17 November 2010, when Schurrle made his full Germany debut against Sweden in Gothenburg. Only half a year later and it is almost impossible to imagine Joachim Low's squad without him.
He said: "I totally feel like an international player now and as though I've finally made the breakthrough. We've got a really great side and could achieve something very special. Everything is right on and off the pitch. The coach and his staff are doing some great work with us players and we can all be very proud."
Four goals in eight caps have made Schurrle a serious contender for a regular starting berth ahead of friend and fellow Cologne resident Lukas Podolski: "It's going really well. I've got a good record, but I need to maintain the same level of performance.
"Most of my appearances so far have been from the bench, but of course my goal is to be playing from the start. That has to be the next step. I think I have a good chance of a starting spot if I can continue my current development. Still, there's plenty of competition for places."
Schurrle's next chance to shine for his country will be on 7 and 10 October as Germany take on Turkey and Belgium in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012. Die Nationalelf have already secured their place at next summer's finals, so Schurrle has switched his focus to earning a place in the final squad, as he explained towards the end of his interview with FIFA.com.
"Germany are always among the favourites at major tournaments," he said. "We want to bring the next European Championship trophy back home, but it's going to be tough because there are five or six other nations with the exact same goal and the quality to win the tournament. For me personally, just taking part would be a real highlight, but there's a lot of hard work ahead."