Whenever Niklas Lomb is asked about how he started between the posts, the Werkself goalkeeper grins. "The reason I went in goal as a child was due to a Christmas present from a godfather. He gave me a simple, grey goalkeeper’s shirt with my first name on the back," said Lomb. On his sixth birthday, he had his first training session at his youth club SC West: as an outfield player. However, as with many children of that age, the young Niklas was keen to play in goal for the U8s. "After a while, I went to my coach and asked him if I could go in goal from time to time. During the training session he kept putting me between the sticks. But I still played outfield in games."
But not for long. "Eventually the point came where I was better than the original goalkeeper. So he played outfield and handed over his position to me." A little aside: The coach of the youngsters at SC West, Ingo Schmitz, was the father of the original keeper. "Ingo very much helped me to develop and was a sort of sporting mentor for me. He did all sorts of training sessions with me and in the end ensured I was ready for Bayer 04," said Lomb who can remember well his first time with the Werkself. "Before I signed for the U17s at Leverkusen, I'd already been going to goalkeeper coaching every Tuesday and Thursday for two years. In the second year I was allowed to take part in full training. The club said to me back then I should keep on gaining match experience with SC West."
In 2008, there was the next big step with the move to the Bayer 04 U17 team. "I was still the third choice in my first year. But in the following season I was in goal when we qualified for the final of the German Championships and lost 1-0 in extra time against Eintracht Frankfurt." The Bayer 04 team back then included home-grown players Danny da Costa and Dominik Kohr who are now both in the first team squad at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lomb, who went to the grammar school in Köln-Ehrenfeld, had a regular itinerary on weekdays. "Most of the time, I was at school till two or three o'clock and then I took the 15.21 S6 from Hansaring in the direction of Kurtekotten for the 5 o'clock training session. Afterwards I was picked up by my mother or father," said Niklas. He passed his A-levels at the age of 19 and he joined the first team squad at the Werkself under then coach Sascha Lewandowski who previously had him under his wings with the U19s.
In his first season, there was little chance of playing as the third keeper behind Bernd Leno and David Yelldell. With one exception: In the Europa League home game against Rosenborg on 6 December 2012, Werkself keeper Niklas Lomb kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 victory – his only competitive appearance for the Werkself to date. A situation that obviously does not satisfy the ambitious 26-year-old. "I'm currently the number three behind Lukas and Rambo. But it doesn't fit in with my ambition to just accept the current situation. In spite of the strong competition, I want to move up to being the number two," he said. Bayer 04 have loaned him out three times in recent years, first to Halle and Münster in the third division and most recently to SV Sandhausen in the second tier. Each time new clubs and experiences for Lomb: "It's always like making a new start. You're taken out of your usual environment and you have to accept the unknown in strange surroundings. That's all part of the job.”
The changes in surroundings also brought new insights. "In the second division, the focus is on tough tackling and passion," said Niklas. "There are also big differences in being a goalkeeper. In the Bundesliga you have a lot less time to make decisions. The intensity and pace of the game are significantly higher." The readjustment after returning to the Werkself last summer was also not straightforward. "In the second division, we were on the lookout more for the second ball and avoided playing short passes from the back to open up the game. It's completely different here at Bayer 04 under Peter Bosz. I had to get used to being asked to play with the ball and open up the game. That was less the case a couple of years ago under Roger Schmidt where you mostly kicked the ball long," said Lomb who is coached day-in, day-out by Werkself goalkeeping coach David Thiel. The two of them know each other from 2008 when Lomb joined Bayer 04. "Niklas is a down-to-earth lad and absolutely brilliant bloke. He was very ambitious in his time with the youth teams and we quickly recognised that he had something," explained Thiel.
The Werkself number 36 gains inspiration from top international goalkeepers. "Manuel Neuer took goalkeeping to another level at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with his incredibly attacking style. With Marc-André ter Stegen everybody is certain he could play outfield given his ability. David de Gea or Hugo Lloris are incredibly strong on the line. Ederson of Manchester City can kick the ball right across the pitch from a standing start," said Lomb who saw Oliver Kahn as a role model when he was a teenager. "Back then he was the measure of all things even if his game can't be compared with today's goalkeepers. Basically, you can't copy another keeper but instead you have to find your own way."
The return to the Rhineland also means coming home for Niklas. "In addition to my family, I have lots of friends here that I went to school with and who I still regularly meet up with," he said. On top of that, he recently started a course in sports business management in Düsseldorf. "I think it's important to do something with your mind that stretches you away from the pitch and takes up time." If everything goes to plan, he will start his degree in the coming year.
A while ago, he discovered golf as a hobby and recreational sport: "It's brilliant for switching off and peace of mind." What would Lomb, whose star sign Leo also connects him to Bayer 04, have done if his football career had not worked out? "I probably would have opted to study at the sports university in Cologne or I would have done a course in sports and fitness management," said the 26-year-old. "But, at the end of the day, the best thing for me was obviously to turn my hobby into a career." That shows Christmas presents in childhood can certainly lead to something very good…
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