Andre Schurrle's journey from winning the World Cup to fighting relegation
How would you cope if you reached the pinnacle of your profession at 23 years of age? Where would you go from there? Would you find it difficult to return to the prosaic realities of everyday life? Would you be able to rouse enthusiasm for the less glorious aspects of your job?
Andre Schurrle was in that position in 2014. The German forward set up Mario Gotze's winning goal in the World Cup final over Argentina, not forgetting grabbing a couple for himself in the historic 7-1 humiliation of Brazil in the semifinal. But Schurrle's journey from top of the world to Premier League relegation battle has been a curious one. Currently on loan at Fulham as they try to clamber out of trouble with new manager Claudio Ranieri, four years ago Schurrle returned from Brazil on a high to Chelsea, whom he had joined the previous summer.
Jose Mourinho told him he would be a key part of the first team but by January he had been sold; first, a combination of bad luck, illness and circumstance derailed his career at Stamford Bridge, then in a roundabout way led to his return to west London this summer.
"It's very hard," says Schurrle, when asked about the problems of re-entering civilian life after winning the World Cup. "I didn't expect at that time, but when I look back now it was very hard to get back into the season.
"You win the World Cup, you're just flying. Then you look at your calendar and you have two-and-a-half weeks off. Going back to the club, you then have 10 months of playing ... it's not easy. The first games were amazing because Jose came to me directly and said 'OK, this is the year, you'll start the first game' -- he told me this the first day I got back -- 'the first game you're going to play, already.' It was two weeks away."
Schurrle did indeed start that first game, scoring in a 3-1 win at Burnley, and then most subsequent league games before the second international break of the season in October. That's where things started to go south. Schurrle travelled with the Germany squad to play Poland in a European Championships qualifier, but while there contracted salmonella.
"It was a bit of chicken," he says, ruefully. "I've never eaten chicken since."
He returned to England and missed a couple of games but was back in the squad two weeks later -- too soon, as it turned out. "I was getting really weak. We didn't find out [what it was] for a week so I was just at home being sick and really feeling like I can't get out of bed.
"You see how skinny I am so to lose three, four, five kilos, it took me a really long time to get the strength back. I didn't have any strength in my body and coming back from that it took me a really long time. I never really got the chance to prove myself [at Chelsea] being back 100 percent."
He started only one more league game (and was taken off at half-time) before the opportunity of signing for Wolfsburg presented itself at the end of the January transfer window. With Willian, Eden Hazard, Oscar and a promising young Egyptian winger called Mohamed Salah available to Mourinho, Schurrle took the offer of more regular first-team football. Since then, it's been an up-and-down few years.
After he had 18 good months at Wolfsburg where he won the DFB Pokal, Borussia Dortmund -- a club more used to receiving big fees than paying them -- spent €30 million on Schurrle, still their transfer record, and things didn't go to plan. Earlier this year, Schurrle suggested "jealousy" was at the heart of the often stinging criticism he received while at Dortmund, but just eight goals in 51 appearances probably didn't help either.
"The media was not really on my side, the fans as well because they wanted to get more out of me because I cost that much," he says.
Now he's back in London and preparing to return to Stamford Bridge for the first time, when Fulham face Chelsea on Sunday. Fighting to keep the Cottagers in the Premier League is pretty different from that night in Rio over four years ago, but Schurrle will be one of their key men as they look to recover under Ranieri, after the difficult start to the season with Slavisa Jokanovic.
"[Jokanovic's] main focus was being tactically and defensively more stable, being in a block, being compact and basically harder to beat," says Schurrle, about the ways Ranieri has changed things in his brief period in charge so far.
"We watched a lot of video and trained a lot tactically on shape, trying to suck in his philosophy. Trying to stay in the game a bit longer and try to pull that little bit of luck on our side, and that is what we had on the weekend [in the 3-2 win over Southampton]."
That victory saw Schurrle score from a Ryan Sessegnon cross and you get the sense that at 28, he's relishing his role as a senior pro, a man to whom the younger players can come for advice. Who better for them to learn from than a World Cup winner?
"I feel it's my duty to get to the young players, tell them what's out there," he says. "With players like Sessegnon, it's cool for them to get to know. I know he's a guy that really wants to know things. I've been around a lot of years, I've seen a lot of things, I can help him get the right mentality."
Keeping Fulham in the Premier League won't match the high of 2014, of course. Then again, what could? But for Schurrle, after the past four years, these smaller satisfactions will do.