Prior to every World Cup, a new generation of players appear, seemingly set to take the tournament by storm. Lea Schüller is one of them. Ahead of her first senior tournament for Germany, she spoke to Rabona’s Ryan Hunn .
Lea Schüller is on the rise. The 21-year old striker for SGS Essen and Germany is widely tipped to be one of Germany’s brightest stars. The summary that accompanied her recent debut in The Guardian’s 100 Best Female Footballers in The World featured the sentence: ‘It’s scary to ponder just how high Schüller’s ceiling might be.’
The last year or so has been remarkable for Germany’s new number 7, and the continuation of a journey that began almost 15 years ago, when she was just six-years old. “I started playing in 2004, after I was on holiday in France and watched the European Championship,” says Schüller, when asked where it all began. “After my holiday I went to the club at home and registered there. I played with the boys.”
Less than ten years later, and after progressing through the Essen youth teams, Schüller made her debut in the Frauen-Bundesliga, aged just 16. Having improved each year, Schüller is on course for her best season yet. In a league where Wolfsburg and Bayern often lock up the top two spots, Essen are currently third and on course for their highest league finish to date – their previous best being fifth. Closing the eleven-point game to the top two may be unlikely with just six games to go, but Schüller is positive on Essen’s league position. “Fourth place would definitely be a success for us”, she says. “It’s [been] a really good season and I’m very happy with what we have already achieved.”
Although not yet 22, Schüller is in her sixth senior season and her most productive yet, averaging a goal per 96 minutes for club and country. When asked about this, she points to a sense of responsibility being behind her continued improvement. “Now I have a lot of experience in my club and have been playing with my older teammates for a long time”, she says. “I will have to become a leading player at some point.”
It’s a goal that is on the way to being achieved, for both club and country. Schüller made her senior international debut against Iceland in 2017 – coming off the bench to score – but it was a debut she never expected to make. “I actually missed their phone call,” she recalls. After returning the call and the news being confirmed, an international call-up did create one minor problem. “I had to cancel my holiday, because I had already booked it and I never expected their call. It was an absolutely terrific feeling.”
Schüller went on to score five goals in five starts during the World Cup qualification campaign. In her second start, she scored all four goals in a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic. “Everything went well that day,” she says, keen to credit her teammates despite the personal achievement. “I got the assists, and really didn’t have to do much more than simply push the ball into the goal.”
Despite being handed her debut by Steffi Jones, it was Horst Hrubesch that gave Schüller a regular starting role for the national side. The gratitude expressed to both is hard to hide. “First of all”, she says, “I’m totally happy that Steffi Jones selected me. Who knows if another coach would have done that for me at that age? So I’m definitely happy she gave me the chance. All I can say about Horst is he trusted me right from the start and I’m really glad I had him as a coach.” After progressing under two legends of German football, Schüller will be looking to continue that trend under the stewardship of another national legend, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. “I’m super happy with Martina as well, I think she’s a great coach and I’m looking forward to going to France under her guidance.”
Due to her experience, it’s easy to forget that this is just the beginning for Schüller and that France will, hopefully, be the first of many international tournaments. Having just missed out on a call-up for the Euros, it would be easy to see Schüller making a serious impact in the country where her passion for football was first sparked.
So on the eve of this return, would Lea Schüller, now German international, have any words for that six-year-old holidaying in France? “At some point I had someone who told me not to waste my talent, that really helped me. But there’s really nothing I would want to tell myself,” she says. “Everything was really good just the way it was.”
Lea Schüller was speaking at the Nike Women’s World Cup Kit launch in Paris.