Kevin Schade has plunged himself into a new country, club and culture.

But Brentford’s new forward is no stranger to change, having left home at the age of 12 to pursue his dream of becoming a professional football player.

From living in a boarding house at the Energie Cottbus Academy to his Bundesliga debut against Borussia Dortmund, Schade reflects on his journey so far.

“Kevin, there’s a letter for you.”

It’s 2014 and a 12-year-old Kevin Schade is greeted by his mother as he opens the front door to his home in Potsdam, Germany.

Kevin, having taken part in trials for the Energie Cottbus Academy, has been eagerly awaiting a response.

“Don’t be sad if they don’t want you,” his mother warns.

What Kevin doesn’t realise is that she has already opened the letter and knows her son’s fate.

“Oh, they said yes!” his mother exclaims, before Kevin has had time to read the words on the paper.

Nine years on, the fondness with which Kevin recalls this moment underlines its significance.

“That was a big step, to come nearly to my goal of becoming a professional football player,” Schade begins.

“I began to play football very early. There was a pitch next to where I lived, and I went there every day after kindergarten.

“Most of the time I was alone outside because I grew up around my mother and two sisters and had a lot of free time.

“I wanted to be a professional footballer since I could think. Since I could imagine. It was always this way in my head. It was the only way I could go.”

The city of Cottbus is some 140 kilometres south east of Potsdam.

Leaving home at the age of 12 to move into a boarding house could have been an overwhelming experience, but Schade, surrounded by other children pursuing the same dream, adapted quickly to his new life.

“When my mother left me, she was very sad,” he says.

“But I was okay. Everything was new for me. I went around and met some new people.

“Everyone wanted to make relationships with each other and to get know each other. It was easy.

“My first training, I was very nervous. But after one or two weeks it was good.

“It was two people to a room in the boarding house and I became best friends with my room-mate.”

“Every day was action,” he continues, “school, training and then free time. After training we’d go outside and play more football.

“The academy, the school and the boarding house were all on the same site. Some trainers worked at the school as well, so it was a good link-up.

“It was very funny to have all the players in one classroom and the teachers didn’t give us homework most of the time because they knew we were going to training after lessons.

“I wanted to be a football player, but I was having fun. I just played and didn’t think about anything.”

For four years, Schade trained, played and went home to Potsdam at the weekends – the perfect routine for a football-obsessed teenager.

In 2018, while playing for Germany in a tournament against a selection of players from the country’s Federal States, he caught the eye of Christoph Wetzel, a scout from Freiburg.

It was an encounter that changed the course of his career.

“Freiburg gave me a really good feeling,” says Schade.

“In the end, I decided to go there because I had a feeling they really, really wanted me.

“They had a long plan for me. ‘Come and you will see,’ I was told. ‘You are important now and you will be important later. Step by step.’

“I went to Freiburg just to visit at first and spoke to the trainer [Christian Streich] and all these important guys.

“They showed me the plan, but they also told me that I’d need to play well to make it happen. ‘If you perform, this should be your plan,’ they said.”

Schade rose to the challenge. He featured regularly for Freiburg’s reserves from July 2019 and, that December, signed his first professional contract.

“That day was ‘wow, wow, wow,’ but the next day you have to prove yourself again,” he says.

“I was very proud. My mother was with me when I signed, and she was very proud as well.

“The day I posted about my contract on Instagram everyone was proud, but one week later, the next guy came and signed. Then they forgot about me, and he was ‘this guy’. But that was good because it kept me focused.

“The time at Freiburg was when I got focused with a good mindset and a good mentality, on and off the pitch.”

Schade continued to progress and made his first-debut debut during a 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund on 21 August 2021.

“That was a very proud moment,” he says, “it was funny because the week before, I’d played against Dortmund’s second team.

“I was so proud that we won and that I got some minutes.

“I was very tired after this game, even though I just played 20 minutes. It was a milestone.

“In the moment I was subbed in, I was just focused. You listen to what the other players are saying to you, and you try to do nothing wrong.

“The Dortmund players were tired, and I was fresh. It was a good game.”

Having had his first taste of top-level football, Schade was impatient for more.

“You play to learn at the beginning,” he continues, “everything is new.”

“In one moment [in the reserves], you play to win, you are one of the best players and you have to go forward, and then in the next moment you are with professional players and you have to learn.

“Step by step, I played more. After seven or eight games I was like, ‘Okay, now I want to score and make assists.’

“The trainer came to me every time and said: ‘Be calm, do your job and the goals will come.’

“And it was just like that. My first goal and my first assist came against Gladbach.”

Schade's face lights up when he mentions Freiburg’s trip to Borussia Monchengladbach on 5 December 2021, and for good reason.

Within the opening five minutes, he had assisted Maximilian Eggestein’s opening goal and headed beyond Yann Sommer to double his side’s lead.

Four more goals rained in before the 37th minute. Freiburg had never scored six goals in a top-flight game, let alone six in a first half.

“Everything just went well,” Schade recalls.

“Every cross was a goal; every shot was a goal. It was very lucky, but you have to work for luck.”

Schade scored his second professional goal later that month in very different circumstances.

Freiburg, having taken the lead against Bayer Leverkusen, had been pegged back on the stroke of half-time by Charles Aranguiz’s close-range header.

With just six minutes left on the clock and the game looking destined to end in a draw, Schade darted to the front post and turned Ermedin Demirovic's delivery into the net.

He interjects as I describe the goal to him. “Yes, I remember it well,” he smiles.

“It was my first winning goal. Big emotions. It was the last game before the winter break. We were in third place after this game.

“It was one of my best games. I played just over 30 minutes, not that much, but I was the match-winner.

“The trainer trusted me and I’m very thankful for that. After my first game against Dortmund, I played nearly every game until my injury. It was a very good time, and I learnt many things.”

Enjoying this interview? Read other instalments in our Long Read series, including in-depth conversations with Ivan Toney, Christian Norgaard and Mathias Jensen

Schade repaid the faith shown in him by Freiburg head coach Christian Streich.

He made 21 league appearances in his debut campaign, registering four goals and one assist.

Used primarily as a substitute (14 of Schade's 2021/22 Bundesliga appearances were from the bench), the forward still ranked seventh in the Freiburg squad for progressive carries (23) and second for carries into the 18-yard box (19).

60 of Schade's 351 touches came in the attacking third, and he completed 15 take-ons at a 46 per cent success rate.

These figures are even more impressive considering that Schade missed Freiburg’s final 10 league games due to an abdominal issue.

Against Greuther Furth last season, he recorded a top speed of 22.6mph, making him the eighth-fastest player in Bundesliga history.

To put that figure into context, one place below Schade on the list is Erling Haaland - now of Manchester City - who achieved a speed of 22.5mph while playing for Borussia Dortmund in March 2022.

Electric pace is a valuable trait for a forward, and Kevin believes he can become even faster.

“It’s a natural ability, but during the last two or three months I’ve been working on it,” he reveals.

“My technique can be made better. It’s one of my strengths and that’s why I need to work on it.

“The angle that you lift your knee, and which muscles are important when you start to run - things like that can be developed.”

While it will take Schade time to adjust to a new country, a new league and new team-mates, he possesses all the attributes to become another Brentford success story.

He reveals that the Bees’ style of play under head coach Thomas Frank, as well as the club’s persistence in trying to sign him, were key factors behind his decision to move to England.

“Brentford wanted me in the summer as well, even when I was injured and didn’t know how long it would take to be fit again.

“They wanted me. They really wanted me. It’s a good step. It’s a Premier League club who are doing really well at the moment.

“To go to somewhere like Liverpool is not good for me because I would not play.

“Fresh from an injury, I need time and games to be 100 per cent fit.

“I’m quick and Brentford’s system is to play quick at the top, with deep runners and crosses from the outside. That’s my game. And I can jump high as well. I think the style will fit my game.

“The coach, the staff, the team-mates - they are very friendly. It has given me a very good feeling and I have settled in fast.”

Schade has developed a close bond with Vitaly Janelt during his first two months at the club and reveals that he exchanged text messages with his fellow German prior to making the switch to Brentford.

“Before I came, I messaged him and asked him questions about the club, about the guys here and what it’s like to live in London,” he says.

“He’s helped me very much. In the first week I was with him nearly every day.

“He showed me London and some spots around the area where I can eat and go for some walks.”

Schade made his Brentford bow on 7 January, replacing Keane Lewis-Potter for the final 20 minutes of the Bees’ FA Cup third-round defeat to West Ham United.

Shortly after his introduction, Kevin was brought down by Craig Dawson.

A quick burst of acceleration that committed the Hammers defender and earned him a yellow card, it was glimpse of what fans can expect to see from their new forward.

'Kevin Schade, Brentford's number nine' sung the west stand in appreciation.

“They gave me a very warm welcome,” says Schade, “that felt very, very good.

“It was very exciting. In Germany you hear about the fans being great in England, and the stadiums being very compact, and it was just like that.

“Now I’m here, I want to play against the best players. I want to see how the best clubs in the world play.

“Everything is new again. Now my goal is to learn. Learn, learn, learn.”