A World Cup hero against hashtags, frustration and boredom: Niclas Füllkrug has a superpower - the striker manages to make people burn for the German national football team again. The reconciler is not a saint.
Niclas Füllkrug sits on the podium at the DFB press conference with an admirable ease. After only his third international match, after his first World Cup goal, the Werder Bremen striker jokes with Thomas Müller in the national team's base camp far up in the north of the desert state. There he has his peace in front of the crowds of fans in Doha. But all of Germany, half the world, looks at the Werder striker. International observers are wondering: who the hell is this "gap-toothed killer" (the English "Times")? And the German fans feel a sense of belonging and specialness around the goalscorer that hasn't existed for a long time.
It's about the secret superpower of "Gap". Not about his precision in the end or his shooting power, with which he "welded" the ball into the goal net in the 1-1 win against Spain (Thomas Müller). It's about the power to reconcile society with the national team.
As if he had been with the DFB team forever, he spoke sentences like: "We're up for the last group game, but the opponents will be unpleasant." Or: "Nothing is done yet. It's going on, so there was no reason for any leaps of joy." But then it gets interesting. "Of course we saw that online some people would have been happier if they failed than if they won," admits the striker. But now many in Germany would feel "a World Cup mood" again. Only that he is the main reason for it, the number 9 doesn't mention that.
A look back. For football fans, the national team has only meant boredom and hashtags in recent years. The international matches have been declining TV ratings for years. Lust, fun and identity-forming feelings have hardly existed since 2016. But exuberant entertainment that is annoying and out of place. The miserable marketing term "The Team" introduced in 2015 is symbolic of this. Too smooth, too much event. A silly and meaningless hashtag (
Niclas Füllkrug is "lucky" not to be part of the squad during these gray and unsuccessful DFB years. He is not mentioned in the same breath as the hashtags and the frustration. On the contrary: He is something like her counter-proposal. Full pitcher is not smooth and not event, full pitcher is lust, greed and down-to-earthness. He embodies hard work on the field and being normal off the field. Maybe like Thomas Müller in his younger years.
A reporter wants to know whether he really celebrated after Costa Rica's win against Japan, which gave Germany a through ball. "I was more relaxed," replies Füllkrug. Sure, normal stop. "I'm a friend of looking after ourselves. Victory wouldn't have done us any good if we hadn't done our homework that evening." Even after his important 1-1 draw against Spain, he didn't want to celebrate enthusiastically because he "wasn't the big cheerer" and because such a goal sometimes "isn't enough to win in the end".
"Lücke" is simply a professional striker who loves to score. No storyteller, no one who makes a fuss about his person. His unobtrusiveness is another likable trait for outsiders. He will not only become a kind of World Cup hero and hope. It mutates into something bigger, all-encompassing.
"Fullness" is an identification figure. For everyone who has not been able to identify with the DFB team in recent years. A reconciler for the fans suffering from poor football and too many events. Of course, the entire national team surprises with a strong and energetic performance against Spain, but in the end it's the number 9 who scores the goal and finally inspires everyone again. Hansi Flick and his team probably didn't expect that when they were nominated for the squad, but they should be rubbing their hands by now.
Lukas Podolski used to wad off a ballack in training, Bastian Schweinsteiger fought his team with a bloody eye to the 2014 World Cup title or Thomas Müller and Miro Klose scored World Cup goal after World Cup goal. Who is really getting the fans excited today? Who shows charisma? Somehow the DFB-Elf fascinates a little more thanks to the filling jug. Fans are looking forward to his next substitution, because then the fire will start again in the opponent's penalty area, or hope that the Werder-Knipser will be in the starting XI against Costa Rica.
Fittingly, Füllkrug finds it "difficult" to see himself as a World Cup hopeful. As a striker, he simply has a job that "gets into situations where you end up being a hero" more often than others. But the defense and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer were "not mentioned as heroes" even though they did a great job. Not only thanks to his goals, the down-to-earth man from Bremen should also be extremely well received in the team with his style.
Niclas Füllkrug has only played three international matches. A total of only 76 minutes. He did score two goals, but of course he can't get the national team into the round of 16 and then even to the title on his own. He's definitely not a saint either. But a person with strengths and weaknesses and mistakes, at Werder Bremen he was almost thrown out last season in the second division because he messed with scouting boss Clemens Fritz. That's exactly why the fans can identify with him.
The striker is the World Cup hero of the hour, but that may be different tomorrow. And yet he shows what this elf has been missing for so long. With a gap in his teeth, commitment and down-to-earthness, he lets fans forget the bad hashtag days. The first final against Costa Rica will show how long the reconciliation lasts.