BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund’s early season difficulties have prompted the club to sign Germany forward Niclas Füllkrug to get the team on track again.
The 30-year-old on Thursday passed a medical examination in Dortmund and subsequently signed a three-year contract through June 2026, the club announced.
Dortmund was previously in negotiations with Werder Bremen over the deal. Bremen had been hoping for about 20 million euros ($22 million), but the clubs reportedly settled on a deal worth 15 million ($16.4 million).
Füllkrug could make his Dortmund debut against promoted Heidenheim on Friday.
“Niclas has proven his goal threat over the years and won the (Bundesliga) top scorer trophy last season,” Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl said. "Thanks to strong performances, he is rightfully an important pillar in the center of the national team's attack. Niclas is a forward who involves his teammates, very good in the air, physically present, he's impressive in one-on-one duels and unpleasant for his opponents. He embodies the profile we were looking for with all these qualities.”
The 30-year-old Füllkrug is a late bloomer. He has still played more games in the second division (135) than he has in the Bundesliga (128). He only made his Germany debut last year, and was one of the few positives in another lackluster World Cup for the national team. He scored two goals as the team was knocked out in the group stage. Altogether he has seven goals in nine appearances for the national team.
Füllkrug scored 46 goals in 99 games for Bremen since rejoining the club from hometown team Hannover in 2019.
Though he has an instinct for being in the right place at the right time, Füllkrug is not just a goal scorer. He’s a burly old-fashioned No. 9 who uses his physicality to make life difficult for defenders.
It made him attractive to Dortmund, which was fortunate to beat Cologne 1-0 in its opening Bundesliga game and was then held 1-1 by Bochum last weekend. Dortmund looked short of ideas and inspiration in both games.
Meanwhile, another old-fashioned No. 9, England captain Harry Kane, scored three goals in two games for league rival Bayern Munich.
“Niclas is fired up for this job at Borussia Dortmund,” Kehl said. “We look forward to this positive guy who will fight for our club. BVB has ambitious goals in three competitions and we are convinced that with Niclas we are even better positioned.”
Füllkrug will have to compete with Ivory Coast striker Sébastien Haller and young Germany forward Youssoufa Moukoko for a starting place. Haller will be playing for Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, which takes place from Jan. 13 and Feb. 11.
Germany coach Hansi Flick said earlier Thursday that Füllkrug would fit in at Dortmund.
“It goes without question that he could help the team with his personality and quality,” Flick said when he included the player in his squad for upcoming friendlies against Japan and France.
Füllkrug was previously overlooked for the senior team since his last appearance for Germany’s under-20 team in 2014. But he led Bremen to Bundesliga promotion in 2022 and scored 10 goals in 14 Bundesliga games before Flick finally called him up before the World Cup in Qatar.
Dortmund lost midfielder Jude Bellingham to Real Madrid in the offseason and the club has struggled to replace the England star, who has four goals in three Spanish league games so far. Midfielders Marcel Sabitzer and Felix Nmecha arrived from Bayern and Wolfsburg, respectively. The latter is injured and will be unable to play against Heidenheim, which has started its first Bundesliga campaign with two losses.
Dortmund coach Edin Terzić was eager to keep the focus on the opponent and not comment on Füllkrug’s transfer before it was confirmed.
“Heidenheim is a team that likes to run, they have good physical strength in the team, hit many crosses and dangerous set pieces,” Terzić said Thursday before referring to the team’s remarkable rise from the fifth division.
“It’s an incredible story, one that’s practically unique in modern soccer,” Terzić said. “They’ve come from the Verbandsliga to the Bundesliga. What coach Frank Schmidt has delivered is fantastic.”
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press