- Mario Gotze is still only 27 but his career seems to be approaching a crossroads
- He has become accustomed to warming the bench for Borussia Dortmund
- An influx of attacking talent over the summer has pushed Gotze out the side
- Big things were expected of Gotze when he scored World Cup winner aged 22
- But he struggled under Pep Guardiola during three seasons at Bayern Munich
- And we’ve seen only glimpses of his class since returning to Dortmund in 2016
Mario Gotze was only 22 when he scored Germany’s winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final
Gotze’s extra-time winner guided Germany to victory over Argentina at the Maracana
Gotze celebrates his winner with Thomas Muller as Germany won a fourth World title in 2014
Gotze holds the World Cup aloft as Germany celebrate their victory in Rio de Janeiro
Gotze has become accustomed to warming the bench at Borussia Dortmund this season
The forward has found it increasingly difficult to hold down a place in the Dortmund side
Gotze celebrates with a fist pump after completing Dortmund’s win over Wolfsburg
The forward cuts a dejected figure as Inter take a 2-0 lead on Tuesday, though Dortmund did fight back to win the Champions League encounter 3-2
Lucien Favre strengthened Dortmund’s attack with summer signings, pushing Gotze out
The fine form of Spanish striker Paco Alcacer has kept Gotze out of the Dortmund side
Gotze flourished under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp as a youngster at the Westfalenstadion
But he struggled to work well under Pep Guardiola during his time as a Bayern Munich player
Gotze with his model partner Ann-Kathrin Brommel after winning the World Cup in 2014
Mario will always have the Maracana. The night the 22-year-old Gotze made his own dreams and those of the German nation come true.
It’s still a goal to savour and appreciate even now, the immaculate chest control and cushioned left-foot finish, deep in extra time, appearing to unfold in one fluid motion.
The problem is, when you win the World Cup at such a young age, as Gotze did in 2014, everything that comes afterwards is always going to be anti-climactic.
Gotze may dwell on that point at the moment as he serves out the final year of his Borussia Dortmund contract as something of a bit-part player.
He is still only 27 – a fact that leaves many incredulous given all that has happened in his career – and should be approaching his pomp. Instead, Gotze seems to be arriving at a crossroads.
The player who was once considered Germany’s answer to Lionel Messi, who accomplished so much so young, has discovered that a career trajectory in such circumstances can only go downwards.
This Saturday, Gotze will be in the Dortmund squad that travels to Munich for the Bundesliga ‘Klassiker’ against his former club Bayern.
It’s far from guaranteed that Gotze will start at the Allianz Arena. After all, Lucien Favre has started him in just three of the nine Bundesliga matches Dortmund have played this season.
Unused substitute: 3
Unused substitute: 2
He has also only started one of their four Champions League group matches so far and that came on Tuesday night when Dortmund came from two goals down to beat Inter Milan 3-2.
But it said much that Gotze was taken off and replaced by Paco Alcacer immediately after Julian Brandt had levelled the scores at 2-2 in the 64th minute. Favre perhaps didn’t think Gotze had it in him to score the winner.
Gotze hasn’t even started in a German Cup game this season, becoming accustomed to warming the bench after Dortmund strengthened their attacking options over the summer.
They signed Julian Brandt from Bayer Leverkusen and Thorgan Hazard from Borussia Monchengladbach, adding to a forward line that also boasts Alcacer, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus.
Gotze can play as an attacking midfielder – indeed he wears the No 10 shirt – but Dortmund are spoilt for choice. Reus played in that role during the early weeks of the season and as club captain is difficult to budge.
He is also capable of playing as a more conventional centre forward but fell victim to the blistering early-season form of Alcacer, who netted five times in his first four league games of the season.
Only an Achilles injury suffered by Alcacer has afforded Gotze a little more time on the field but the Spaniard is now fit again and so normal service will soon be resumed.
And when he does start, Gotze has failed to set the world alight. He scored in the 2-2 draw against Werder Bremen and from the penalty spot to round off last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Wolfsburg. But his returns don’t compare to Alcacer’s.
Back in the summer, Gotze insisted he was ‘totally relaxed in every aspect’ about his contract situation but he reportedly wasn’t pleased when Dortmund offered him a new deal with a 20 per cent pay cut.
It has raised the prospect of moving abroad next summer and you’d imagine there would be plenty of interest in such a technically-gifted player who surely still has plenty to offer.
At the moment, it seems he has little incentive to remain at Dortmund. Gotze, like any player and especially one of his class, needs to be playing every week.
But then Gotze has become used to knockbacks since the unmatchable high of winning the World Cup in 2014.
Having emerged from Dortmund’s academy to become a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, he became a first-team regular at just 18 and won back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
BORUSSIA DORTMUND 2009-2013
116 matches, 31 goals
2 x Bundesliga titles; 1 x German Cup
BAYERN MUNICH 2013-2016
114 matches, 36 goals
3 x Bundesliga titles; 2 x German Cups; 1 x UEFA Super Cup; 1 x FIFA Club World Cup
BORUSSIA DORTMUND 2016-
91 matches, 13 goals
1 x German Cup; 1 x German Supercup
63 matches, 17 goals
1 x World Cup
He was outstanding as Dortmund reached the Champions League final in 2013 but missed the Wembley showpiece against Bayern through injury, having already agreed to sign for the Bavarian club.
His move didn’t exactly go down well among members of the ‘Yellow Wall’ and Gotze was forced to warm up in the tunnel when Bayern played at the Westfalenstadion in November 2013.
Gotze had the last laugh, however, coming off the bench to score the first goal in a 3-0 win, keeping his celebration muted out of respect.
But what was notable was that Pep Guardiola, the Bayern manager, didn’t start Gotze in a number of key Champions League matches, including the first leg of the quarter-final with Manchester United and both legs of the semi-final against Real Madrid.
And though everyone remembers the winning goal in the final in Brazil, Gotze wasn’t actually started by Joachim Low after the last-16 win over Algeria.
Again in the 2014-15 season, Gotze played every Champions League game in Bayern’s run to the semi-finals but Guardiola then benched him for both legs against Barcelona.
It appears as some form of psychological torture. Here was a player who’d just won the World Cup, not started in the very biggest matches for club or country.
In all honesty, Gotze and Guardiola didn’t see eye-to-eye. Pep had wanted Bayern to sign Neymar but the club refused and instead convinced their newly-appointed manager that Gotze was just as good.
And Gotze’s initial enthusiasm at the prospect of working with one of the world’s foremost managers quickly soured.
He later revealed in the documentary Being Mario Gotze: ‘I had the feeling that Guardiola leaves the human element out of the equation.
‘Empathy wasn’t his strength. But world-class trainers need empathy, every athlete is a human, and you need to be able to combine both.’
Guardiola certainly wasn’t Klopp, who prides himself on his empathy, that was for sure.
After being heavily criticised for his performances during Euro 2016, Gotze made the move back to Dortmund, appeasing any remaining angry fans by admitting that he never should have left.
Injury issues and poor form plagued him, however, and his return wasn’t a happy one. His club performances saw him drop out of national team selection and he hasn’t played for Germany since November 2017.
Last season was better, with Gotze showing glimpses of his 2012-13 best but it wasn’t enough for Dortmund to end their agonising wait for the Bundesliga title as Bayern reeled them in.
Then came the influx of new attacking talent, pushing Gotze onto the bench when he had been starting regularly since his return to Dortmund.
Gotze is in danger of becoming the forgotten man of German football. He will always be the man known for winning a World Cup final. But he’s also doomed to always be measured by this impossible yardstick.
It may do him a world of good to leave the suffocating Bundesliga environment at the end of the season and seek a fresh challenge elsewhere.