Ranieri’s rigour changed our luck, says Schür­rle

Ger­man for­ward tells Paul MacInnes why he is not the only Ful­ham man savour­ing a re­turn to Stam­ford Bridge

The Observer - Sport - - Front Page -

Sun­day lunch is a good time for fam­ily re­unions and when Chelsea host Ful­ham at mid­day there will be more than one. Join­ing the new man­ager and erst­while Blues Tinker­man, Clau­dio Ranieri, in mak­ing his re­turn will be An­dré Schür­rle, the Ger­man in­ter­na­tional who spent 18 months at Stam­ford Bridge and is now a key fi gure as the Cot­tagers seek to re­verse their aw­ful start to the sea­son.

Dressed as if he is head­ing for a re­cep­tion at the Win­ter Palace, in black over­coat and match­ing turtle­neck, the 28- year- old Ger­man cuts a suave, svelte fi gure as he takes his seat in a draughty room at the back of Craven Cot­tage. He has a smile on his face, too, the re­lief clear af­ter Ful­ham claimed their sec­ond vic­tory of the sea­son last Sat­ur­day against Southamp­ton.

“It was a huge win for us,” Schür­rle says of the 3- 2 home tri­umph. “You can imag­ine the feel­ing com­ing off this long streak of not win­ning. Even if you are los­ing ev­ery game it is so im­por­tant to bounce back and get that win, to get that lit­tle bit of confi dence and get that smile on your face. It was huge for us and it will just help us if we con­tinue to work like this.”

The Saints match was Ranieri’s fi rst in charge and there was a no­table ab­sence of “dilly- ding” style ban­ter from the Ital­ian be­fore and af­ter the match . Schür­rle confi rms that things have been se­ri­ous on the train­ing ground, too. “In the fi rst days it was a lit­tle bit more strict and more se­ri­ous, which is what your need, be­cause he wants ev­ery­body to get the way he wants to play,” he says. “We watched a lot of video and trained a lot tac­ti­cally on shape, try­ing to suck in his phi­los­o­phy.”

Much of that phi­los­o­phy, ac­cord­ing to Schür­rle, has been around mak­ing the team more ef­fec­tive at the back. That is hardly sur­pris­ing given Ful­ham’s aw­ful de­fen­sive sta­tis­tics – bot­tom of the league with the most goals con­ceded at 33 – 25 of which have come from open play – and

‘ It’s so im­por­tant to get that win, to get that bit of confi dence and get that smile on your face’ An­dré Schür­rle

al­low­ing an av­er­age of 16.5 shots per game.

“His main fo­cus was be­ing tac­ti­cally and de­fen­sively more sta­ble, be­ing in a block, be­ing com­pact and ba­si­cally harder to beat,” Schür­rle says. “It’s about try­ing to stay in the game a bit longer and try to pull that lit­tle bit of luck on our side. That is what we had on the week­end.”

The ob­vi­ous ques­tion that fol­lows is; if Ful­ham are con­cen­trat­ing on de­fend­ing now, what were they do­ing be­fore? “That is the funny thing,” Schür­rle says. “With Slav­isa Jokanovic we thought the same as well, we wanted to stay long in the game, be com­pact, be de­fen­sive. Against Liver­pool we did it re­ally well.

“Ev­ery­body was work­ing to­gether de­fen­sively, like eight, nine play­ers be­hind the ball al­ways. Then we still lose. But you change man­ager and you get that bit of luck that we had against Southamp­ton. Foot­ball is crazy some­times.”

This last ob­ser­va­tion is some­thing Schür­rle recog­nises well. The for­ward’s ca­reer has gone fast and slow and some­times both speeds at the same time. Af­ter mak­ing his break­through at Mainz at the turn of the decade, Schür­rle was snapped up by Bayer Lev­erkusen af­ter half a dozen Bun­desliga ap­pear­ances. Two sea­sons later, in 2013, Chelsea paid £ 18m for the then 22- year- old, José Mour­inho’s fi rst sign­ing in his sec­ond spell with the club.

A year later, Schür­rle would also be­come a world cham­pion in Brazil yet his time at Chelsea is gen­er­ally re­mem­bered as some­thing of a missed op­por­tu­nity. From Schür­rle’s point of view, his time there can be bro­ken down into two dis­tinct pe­ri­ods, be­fore and af­ter the World Cup.

“In my fi rst year I was re­ally happy with the role I had, I started half the games or a lit­tle bit more. I had quite good stats, I had goals, im­por­tant goals for the team,” he says. “I had that confi dence from the man­ager too. I knew he wanted a lot from me but I know I could han­dle it. Af­ter the World Cup, José came to me di­rectly and said: ‘ OK, this is the year, you’ll start the fi rst game’ – he told me this the fi rst day I got back. But the sec­ond year, it was just very diffi cult.”

Schür­rle at­tributes this change to ex­haus­tion gen­er­ally, and Pol­ish chicken more specifi cally. He recog­nises the diffi cul­ties cur­rently affl ict­ing other Premier League play­ers who are try­ing to get back to their best lev­els af­ter a World Cup sum­mer. But it was an un­timely meal while on duty with Ger­many in Oc­to­ber 2014 that, he says, re­ally knocked the stuffi ng out of him.

“It was an away game, I think in Poland,” he says. “I ate some chicken and had re­ally bad sal­monella. I was out for maybe three weeks and we didn’t know what it was for a week.

“You see how skinny I am so to lose three, four, fi ve ki­los it took me a re­ally long time to get the strength back. I never re­ally got the chance to prove my­self be­ing back to 100 %. That was when I got the op­por­tu­nity to go back to Ger­many and [ Mour­inho] let me go. I’ve never eaten chicken since.”

Schür­rle left Chelsea for Wolfs­burg for € 30m . No loan, he was just gone, though Mour­inho made sure he re­ceived a ti­tle win­ners’ medal at the end of the sea­son. A suc­cess­ful 18 months fol­lowed, six of them in the com­pany of his fel­low Stam­ford Bridge refugee Kevin De Bruyne. That earned an­other, even big­ger move, when Schür­rle be­came Borus­sia Dort­mund’s record sign­ing. But what came next was per­haps the most baffl ing and cer­tainly most dis­ap­point­ing spell of Schür­rle’s ca­reer. He scored three goals in two sea­sons and be­came the sub­ject of de­ri­sion from the Yel­low Wall. “We’ll drink un­til Schür­rle scores,” went one chant.

Ful­ham pro­vided an es­cape this sum­mer and Schür­rle snapped it up, sign­ing on at Craven Cot­tage for two years on loan. His form has been bet­ter than the team’s to this point, with fi ve league goals , in­clud­ing one in that win at Southamp­ton, a defi ni­tive fi nish to a su­perla­tive Ryan Sesseg­non cross.

Af­ter be­ing the prodigy and the prospect, the cham­pion and the fl op, Schür­rle now fi nds him­self in the role of se­nior pro, his job to help – and sup­port – young­sters such as Sesseg­non as Ful­ham con­tinue their bat­tle against the drop.

“It’s dif­fer­ent for me, and it’s some­thing I need to get used to as well,” he says. “I feel it’s my duty to get to the young play­ers, tell them what’s out there. Ryan, he’s a guy that re­ally wants to know things. Hope­fully, I can help him get the right men­tal­ity as I’ve been around a lot of years, I’ve seen a lot of things.” You can cer­tainly say that again.

 An­dré Schür­rle spent 18 months at Chelsea – his Blues for­tunes changed af­ter a bad dish of Pol­ish chicken

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