The Nationalelf is indebted to Chelsea. So one would be led to believe, reading the German sports pages on Wednesday morning. For after yet another thrilling – if this time ultimately meaningless – ninety minutes against Sweden, it was Andre Schürrle who emerged as the stand out player of this international break.
Beforehand, the talk was all of whether Löw would pay for not picking Stefan Kießling. By the time the two games were over, Bild were asking “do we really need a centre forward at all?”
Schürrle’s performances suggest not. With a hat-trick in Stockholm - consolidated by a glorious curling strike into the top corner - and an elegant finish against Ireland, Schürrle was as clinical in front of goal as he was ubiquitous in his running on the left side of midfield. Watching him this weekend was to wonder how, until recently, he was only Germany’s third choice in that position.
For Schürrle, the games against Ireland and Sweden represented an opportunity to finally reassert his claim to a place in the national side. Since emerging as a young talent at Mainz several years ago, he has forever been on the fringes, kept out of the side by the likes of Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus, and even occasionally Julian Draxler.
With Arsenal and Dortmund’s respective stars both out injured, however, a resurgent Schürrle found his way once more into the starting eleven – and boy, did he impress. The uninformed onlooker may have put that down to his pace, his running, his exquisite control of the ball and his pass completion rate of nearly 95 per cent. Schürrle himself put it down to his beard.
“My mum and sister keep telling me to shave it off. I think it brought me luck” said the Chelsea player of his infamous three day stubble after the game.
The beard, though, is not the only sign that the young talent who burst into the limelight alongside Lewis Holtby at Mainz a few years ago is maturing fast. Since his leap of faith into the unknown of Stamford Bridge and the Premier League, Schürrle has proven himself far more resilient in the face of stark competition than many thought him to be. Not only under Jose Mourinho has he held his head above water among a host of talented team mates, but also now in the national team.
Many in Germany have been surprised at how well Schürrle has maintained a place in Chelsea’s starting eleven. Though there are none who doubt his talent, his last season at Leverkusen was unremarkable, and the more pessimistic predicted a similar descent into anonymity to Marko Marin’s during his time at Chelsea.
Unlike Marin, however, Schürrle seems to thrive more in challenging situations. It was as an unchallenged first team player at Leverkusen that his claim to a place in Joachim Löw’s side first weakened.
“When he first started to play for us three years ago he was going through a fantastic phase. After that, he failed to progress for a while” said the Germany coach this week.
Now, though, Schürrle is back, and has proven as much with his performances over the last few days. The general opinion – and one shared by the player himself – is that the challenge of Chelsea has brought about this transformation. Jose Mourinho has been very clear himself of late that there is no mercy for players who do not impress in training and on the pitch, and Schürrle currently belongs to those who do.
How these developments pan out over the season and into the World Cup is yet to be seen. While Löw’s eternal faith in Lukas Podolski as a regular first eleven player is finally on the wane, Reus, in particular, will provide ample competition for the left side of midfield, and both he and Draxler can also challenge Schürrle in the number 10 role.
Germany’s eight goals in two games despite having eight major players out injured is credit to the depth of attacking quality Löw has cultivated over recent years. However well he plays this season, Andre Schürrle will still be fighting for a place in the team when the World Cup comes around. On current evidence, though, that might just suit him to a tee.