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The Unexpected Sources of Inspiration for Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund—And Why They’re Making a Comeback in Fashion

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The last time Real Madrid participated in a Champions League final was just two years ago. Joselu wasn’t there to fill in; instead, he was there as a supporter. That year’s runner-up in the Ballon d’Or, Sadio Mané, was the center-forward they faced. In the present, Niclas Füllkrug, a player who was active in Germany’s second division not too long ago, will be leading the line for Borussia Dortmund. Füllkrug wasn’t even Werder Bremen’s leading scorer at the time; Marvin Ducksch held that title, despite his significant contribution to the team’s advancement.

After two years, Füllkrug and Joselu have emerged as their clubs’ starting center forwards in the Champions League final. Joselu has emerged for Real Madrid as a backup striker in the event that a specialized striker is not available. Füllkrug, on the other hand, could be able to play the entire match for Borussia Dortmund after winning the first leg of their semifinal match against Paris Saint-Germain. Joselu also grabbed media attention as he scored a thrilling late brace against Bayern Munich.

The chance exists that the Champions League final will be decided by one of these improbable characters. If not, they may make a big difference in Euro 2024. Especially Füllkrug has already left his imprint on the global scene. His and superstar Jamal Musiala’s performances at the 2022 World Cup were two of Germany’s few positive moments during an otherwise dismal campaign.

Joselu’s trip, which took place throughout three nations, has been more varied. He was even a player for Füllkrug’s local team, Hannover, having been born in Stuttgart. However, Joselu was already in England with Stoke City when Hannover signed Füllkrug, thus their paths did not cross there. Despite his meager total of 10 goals over three seasons at Newcastle, Joselu was well-liked by Rafa Benitez at Newcastle because of his work ethic rather than his goal-scoring ability.

Joselu’s luck altered when he got back to Spain. He surpassed his total goals scored in England with 11 goals in his debut season with Alavés. Unexpectedly, he scored 17 goals for Espanyol and 18 goals while on loan at Real Madrid during his most fruitful seasons, which occurred after he turned thirty.

Füllkrug’s path is equally fascinating. His most productive years have been the past few years, having scored 16 goals for Hannover in the 2017–18 campaign. He led the Bundesliga in scoring the previous season and has been a vital member of Dortmund’s squad since his practical acquisition in the summer. He is within one goal of completing a historic treble thanks to his goals in the Champions League semifinal and quarterfinals. Cristiano Ronaldo was the last player to score in a Champions League-winning season’s quarterfinal, semifinal, and final. That happened in 2017. If Joselu wins the game in the same manner as he did in the semifinals, he would become the second player after Karim Benzema to score two goals in both the semifinals and the finals.

Joselu’s performance as Benzema’s surprising successor has been remarkable. Despite being initially considered a downgrade and a stopgap, he has shown himself to be a decisive and economical signing; his €500,000 loan fee is a small portion of Kylian Mbappé’s weekly pay. Füllkrug is Dortmund’s third-most costly acquisition at €13 million, made possible by the money left over after Jude Bellingham’s sale.

These athletes represent the return of the conventional center-forward. Joselu and Füllkrug are a throwback to a bygone age of footballing, at a time when false nines, inverted wingers, and fluid attackers are the hot thing. Pep Guardiola has had a significant impact on Spain and Germany, encouraging a move toward attackers who are more technically adept and adaptable. But these two players’ revival of the old No. 9 demonstrates that football is cyclical and that the traditional center-forward still has a place in the game.

Füllkrug is a deserving heir to Dortmund’s string of formidable forwards, which includes Erling Haaland, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Robert Lewandowski, because to his toughness and aptitude for scoring goals. He may not have the grace and early success of these forerunners, but his impact is undeniable.

It’s possible that defenders’ acclimatization to more contemporary offensive tactics contributed to Joselu and Füllkrug’s late blossoming since it made them less equipped to handle conventional, physical center forwards. This comeback could lead to a more widespread renaissance of the No. 9 position in football. Both athletes are living examples of tenacity and the notion that those who persevere, despite all odds, have the potential to achieve greatness.

Their experiences serve as a reminder that even journeymen may succeed and become well-known, demonstrating the numerous unexpected twists and turns that can occur on the path to success. They are a living example of the timeless attraction and significance of the traditional center-forward in contemporary football as they get ready for the Champions League final.

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