FAMILIAR SIGHT: Andre Schurrle celebrates a goal, which Dortmund fans are seeing more often. Photo: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

BERLIN – Even the man himself can’t quite remember the first time it happened. It must have been sometime around the beginning of 2018. It was sometime during those early weeks of the new year that Andre Schürrle was finally, finally able to regularly do what he does best - and show just why Dortmund signed him in the summer of 2016: play football!

At some point during one of those home matches that weren’t - if we are brutally honest - thrilling affairs from start to finish, a chant emanated from the stands for the first time. Drawn out at first, and then getting quicker and quicker: “Schüüüüü, Schüüü, Schü!” Since then, the song has reverberated around Germany’s biggest football stadium. Time and again.

“I get the feeling that the mood is a lot more positive,” said Schürrle.

The World Cup winner has sensed a stronger bond with “the best fans in the world”.

“It does me a lot of good and it is one of the reasons that things have been going much better for me in recent weeks.”

There is no doubt anymore: Schüüüü’ll never walk alone!

The first time we sat down together at the training centre for a profile for the club magazine, Andre Schürrle had just scored a late equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw against Real Madrid in the Champions League. He celebrated with a spectacular kung-fu kick on the corner flag. 

It showed the confidence oozing out of Schürrle, as he spoke of his ambitious goals with his new club, of a “flying start,” and of “winning trophies”.

The flying start turned out to be a false start. The 27-year-old was plagued by a raft of injuries; knee problems, muscle problems, and achilles problems made 2017 a year to forget. Every time he battled his way back to fitness, Schürrle suffered a further setback.

The path to form, fitness and routine was strewn with obstacles. It would be unfair to judge his performaces on the odd occasions he did actually play. “It was a difficult year,” said Schürrle in hindsight. “I had such big plans, because I know what I am capable of when I get into my groove. But if you take the summer off-season into account, I was out of action for over six months.”

The 2017/18 Champions League campaign bypassed “Schü”, as did most of the first half of the Bundesliga season. A mere 226 minutes of playing time were all he had to show for his efforts leading up to the winter break - just two-and-a- half matches.

For a player who made a significant contribution to Germany’s World Cup triumph in Brazil with a goal himself and the assist for Mario Götze’s winner in the final, that return fell way below expectations.

Dortmund's Andre Schurrle reacts during UEFA Europa League round of 32 against Atalanta Bergamo. Photo: Friedemann Vogel/EPA
Andre Schurrle reacts during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 match vs Atalanta Bergamo. Photo: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

Yet Schürrle is still able to draw the positives from the experience.

“I worked hard on my body, but also on my mind.”

The long layoff afforded plenty of time for thinking, for deep discussion, and for reading.

“I could relate to many things,” Schürrle said of books he read about personal development and self-confidence. “I learned you can’t take being fit for granted. Even though it is hard to accept being injured.”

Perhaps it helped Schürrle mature. He is someone who reflects deeply on himself and on football, someone who rejects the superficial things in life.
Spending time between training sessions and matches on the Playstation “would not be enough for me,” he said. “Time is too valuable for that.”

Since the start of 2018, Andre Schürrle has been spending most of his time where it matters most: on the pitch! He has played almost every minute of seven of the eight league matches since the turn of the year. His only substitute appearance came against Freiburg. And the regular runouts have paid dividends.

Schürrle has weighed in with a late winner in Cologne, the opener in the Europa League first-leg against Atalanta and pulled the goal back in the 2-1 defeat to Salzburg.

In Mönchengladbach he set up Marco Reus’ sensational winner and added further assists in the 2-0 victory over Hamburg and the 1-1 draw at home to Augsburg. Although it did not yield a direct involvement in a goal, his energetic performance against Frankfurt is also worthy of a mention.

Having beaten three players, Schürrle sent a cross into the area that eventually landed at the feet of Michy Batshuayi, who smashed home the winning goal in a 3-2 victory. The same combination teamed up to see off Hannover as well: Schü’s corner found Batshuayi, who scored the only goal of the game. In short: “Schü” is on a roll. “Several things are coming together,” he said. “Firstly, I am finally fit again. Secondly, Peter Stöger put his trust in me from day one. We had plenty of conversations, especially in the winter training camp.”

Then there’s the third factor: Mario Götze and Marco Reus. His teammates on the pitch also happen to be his best friends off it. “That’s not just a story the media made up because it sounds nice,” said Schürrle. “It is also true.”

The friendship began at the 2012 European Championships.

“Back then, we were the youngsters in the squad,” said the then-21-year-old. Reus was 23 and Götze just 20.

“We spent a lot of time together and formed a real bond.”