When Borussia Dortmund signed fullback Nico Schulz for €25.5 million last summer from Hoffenheim, it looked like he would become a key piece in the BVB jigsaw that was looking to build upon the previous season and challenge Bayern for the title. Less than 12 months later, it is reported that the club are willing to offload the German international.
So where did it all go wrong for Schulz at the Signal Iduna Park? Is his time up at the club?
Form: Temporary or Permanent?
The Berlin-born left-back had made quite a name for himself at Hoffenheim as a marauding fullback. In the 2018-19 season he played 30 Bundesliga games, scoring once and providing six assists. His average match rating from the esteemed Kicker Sportmagazin was 2.88 (1-to-5 scale, with 1 being the top mark).
Schulz had played himself into Joachim Löw’s German national side, making his debut in September 2018 in a friendly against Peru and scoring the winning goal as a bonus. He has since become a regular for the Nationalmannschaft.
This season for the Schwarzgelben, however, he has only made seven starts, scoring once (in the 4-0 win at Mainz), but providing no assists. His Kicker average rating has slumped to 4.07. To make matters worse, since the start of the Rückrunde, he has not made a single appearance with the substitutes bench becoming his new ‘home’. Schulz is clearly not on trainer Lucien Favre’s radar.
In November, the club looked to back the player, with Dortmund’s head of the licensed player division, Sebastian Kehl asking for patience. “I firmly believe in Nico. He’s a German international who has done outstandingly in recent years. He’s incredibly dynamic and a really good guy,” said Kehl in an interview with Kicker.
“Nico himself knows that he hasn’t reached his top level here yet, which has got something to do with settling in at the club and the fact that he was injured for several weeks. He’s working hard to get back to that level.”
That was in November, but alas Schulz has still not found that ‘top level’. As the Bundesliga returns from the Covid-19 lockdown, he is out with a muscle injury, so time is running out for him to make his mark this season.
Put quite simply, Schulz just hasn’t provided the attacking dynamism that Dortmund paid €25 million for. They were looking for a left-sided fullback to mirror Ashraf Hakimi’s top performances on the right, but Schulz just hasn’t lived up to those expectations.
When Dortmund signed Nico Schulz, their Portuguese left-back/ midfielder Raphael Guerreiro was entering the final year of his contract with no indication from the player that he was prepared to extend it.
However, in October he did sign a new four-year deal at the Signal Iduna Park. His form also became such that it was very difficult for trainer Lucien Favre to look beyond him for the berth on the left side for BVB.
Indeed, it is difficult to argue against the fact that Guerreiro was the club’s best player prior to the lockdown, eclipsing even the likes of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
The Portugal international hit a rich vein of form in his last six league games, confirmed by two goals and one assist. The 26-year-old achieved a pass success rate above 90% in five of those six matches and averaged 4.2 tackles and interceptions combined per game over that period. Guerreiro also succeeded with 2.5 dribbles per game, proving decisive at both ends for Dortmund.
As Schulz continued to struggle, Guerreiro’s star was in the ascendancy.
Depending on which reports you believe, Dortmund are either preparing to offload the player in the summer at a big financial loss or ready to give him another chance next season to get back to his best and prove himself at the club.
Much will depend on the state of the transfer market, but recent rumours that Dortmund are one of a host of clubs chasing the loan signing of Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilón do not bode well for Schulz.