Mario Gomez: Evergreen forward enjoying Stuttgart homecoming
In 2003 a young colossus, the fearless Mario Gomez, burst onto the scene at VfB Stuttgart. He wasn't the quickest nor most technically adept. Not the most skilful with the ball either, nor efficient off it. He simply knew how to nick it into the net. Seven seasons on, he set off away from home. After nine goal-laden years touring Europe Gomez is back at his boyhood club, still firing. It's been a comeback beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
Stuttgart was where it all started for Gomez. He was born there. Everything he learned was in the Southwest. A manufacturing hub, home to both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, many kids dreamed about engineering the perfect car. For Gomez. It was goals. At just five, he was already bullying defenders for amateur side SV Unlingen.
Yet donning Stuttgart's white and red strip was his top priority. It seemed like a dream too monstrous. Patient and proactive, he was ready to bid his time elsewhere till his breakthrough arrived. Eight years at Unlingen were followed by two at FV Bad Sauligau, but still not a peep from Die Roten. He then tried his luck with SSV Ulm 1846. Game changer. Just one season in Donaustadion was enough.
Gomez was 18 when he signed with Stuttgart. His first season produced six goals from 19 games. The second was more prolific, delivering 15 in 24 outings. That was enough to earn him a spot with the seniors.
He started the 2005/06 campaign as Stuttgart's first choice attacker. In over 30 appearances, he struck 12 times. But it was the following campaign when the 6'2" finisher established himself a top marksman. Alongside local lads Sami Khedira and Serdar Tasci, Gomez helped Die Rotens to their first Bundesliga crown in 15 years, contributing 14 goals. From there everything changed.
Following one more year at Mercedes-Benz Arena, Gomez was snapped up by Bayern Munich in a record deal. Although he showed good form he was never the Bavarians' first choice. Four years yielded a little above a century in goals yet he was never an Allianz Arena favourite. After a season coming off the bench he took his craft to Serie A, joining Fiorentina. There he grappled to adapt, notching only 14 strikes in his first Lega Calcio campaing. A loan spell at Besiktas proved fertile but unspectacular.
In 2016, a 30-year-old Gomez journeyed home to salvage his dwindling career. It was perceived as a retirement strategy. Instead of Stuttgart he opted for sinking VfL Wolfsburg. Surprisingly, Gomez's aerial threat, killer instinct, and positioning looked sharp as ever. He racked a healthy 18 goals in his first year. It didn't feel right however. Gomez craved for a return to his roots.
That opportunity finally presented itself last winter. Being a model professional, he sweated to break into Tayfun Korkut's lineup, hoping to make an impact. He didn't find the target on his second debut but it was an unforgettable experience.
"I can't remember a match I've played in recent years that was as special to me as this one against Hertha."
Indeed, home is where the heart is. He started the next two matches but the drought persisted. Then a strike against former club Wolfsburg opened the floodgates. Six further matches have produced five goals, including Friday's brace at Freiburg. Before then, he notched another pair at FC Koln. He isn't scoring just any goal, rather ones of the extremely exquisite, important variety. Had he joined a bit earlier, he might have been battling Robert Lewandowski for the scorer's crown.
He has another goal in mind as well. Gomez watched Die Mannschaft's last FIFA World Cup triumph from home. He hasn't played for his country in almost two years. If he keeps crafting goals instead of cars for Mercedez Joachim Low may want to kick his tires.