The Ghost of Mario Gotze
Background Photo: Ra Boe, CC BY-SA 3.0 de
When Mario Gotze burst onto the scene in 2010/11, Germany thought they had found their Lionel Messi. The 18-year-old went from youth player to instrumental member of a Bundesliga-winning side in 18 months. He was the poster boy as Jurgen Klopp’s youthful Borussia Dortmund brushed mighty Bayern Munich aside.
While it was a team effort, Gotze caught the eye. He escaped the most impossible situations like Houdini, executing the sublime. His creativity was limitless, play fearless, touch deft. Best, he had a ruthless mentality to complete the package.
Dortmund’s back-to-back titles motivated Gotze to sign his long-term future with Dortmund. Committed, he stepped up again, helping BVB reach the Champions League final. He seemed peerless, finishing with 12 goals and 14 assists in all competitions for a team nowhere near its peak.
On 25 May 2013, the young German prodigy gazed upon David and Goliath. German football's second coming unfolded: Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley. Gotze sat, injured, witnessing his childhood club waste chances in the biggest tie in recent club history. He seemed emotionless although the loss affirmed his decision to commit football treason.
Why? Every player wants to win. Moreover, the German Messi would learn at the feet of the original's master. He would play for Pep Guardiola. Too sweet a deal, Mario packed his bags for Munich.
Initially, the move seemed a match made in heaven. Guardiola delighted to find a player so suited to his intricate style and the false-nine role. Gotze‘s first season ended with 13 goals and nine assists. As debut campaigns go, it was something on which to build.
His fine form continued on the international stage as he wrote his name into German history. The diminutive attacker scored the goal of which every child dreams: a World Cup winner. Literally then figuratively, Gotze had the world at his feet.
Then the bottom fell out. Pep didn’t need a false nine anymore. In 2014, he recruited a real No.9. With Robert Lewandowski lighting up the Bundesliga, Pep didn’t know what to do with the young German. The pressure of [not] playing for a big club began to weigh on Mario’s shoulders. People started to debate his mentality. Recurring injuries didn’t help. His heavenly move became a descent into hell.
Following three sub-par years at Bayern, Gotze returned to Borussia Dortmund in 2016. Once Die Schwarz-Gelben's most popular player, he had to rebuild his relationship with the BVB faithful from scratch, healing the wounds he left behind upon his departure.
Gotze’s Dortmund redemption was bumpy. After an inconsistent first few months, he found his footing. Then, in February 2017, BVB issued an unusual press release. Gotze’s recurring muscle injuries had been diagnosed. A rare, difficult-to-detect metabolism disorder affected his endurance. Mario was ruled out indefinitely.
Gotze began his lengthy, gruelling rehabilitation immediately. After 5 months of intense training, he rejoined the team. Peter Bosz’s arrival was positive news. The Dutchman's offensive philosophy dovetailed with his skills. Sadly, the former Ajax boss' shortcomings resulted in the sack. Gotze’s season ended with two goals in 32 appearances.
Lucien Favre changed the system to 4-2-3-1 upon his arrival at Dortmund. Marco Reus often operates as a number 10. Paco Alcacer is deadly in front of goal. Both restrict Gotze's playing time. He hasn’t impressed Favre. In just 5 Bundesliga starts, neither goals nor minutes came easily.
The players occupying his favoured positions offer more to the team. A healthy Reus always edges Gotze out of the starting eleven. Alcacer offers more competition in the striker’s role. This indicates Gotze's decline. Unless he offers Favre something as extraordinary as he did when playing for Klopp, the tide will never turn in his favour.
Still 26, he has time. His talent always attracts suitors. Starting fresh in the uber-competitive Premier League may be his best option. Leaving his boyhood club a second time is a heart-wrenching decision. Sometimes needs must.
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