Mario Gotze should be centre-stage with the spotlight on Dortmund v Bayern tonight… instead, Germany’s once-in-a-generation talent faces a sorry exit after problems with his health, weight and bosses
- Mario Gotze is 27 and coming into his peak, yet his career is at a crossroads
- He will leave Borussia Dortmund for a second time at the end of the season
- At Dortmund, he is on the sidelines due to players such as Jadon Sancho
In another world, a parallel timeline, Borussia Dortmund’s title-race clash with Bayern Munich on Tuesday evening would not be about Jadon Sancho, or Erling Braut Haaland, or Alphonso Davies. It would be about Mario Gotze.
On Tuesday, the whole world will tune in to a fixture which has defined German football for the last decade. Ten years ago, it would have been a safe bet that Bavarian-born and Dortmund-raised wunderkind Gotze was going to be that fixture’s defining player.
At 27, he would now be approaching his peak, ready once again to play a starring role in the so-called ‘Klassiker’.
Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Gotze is just 27 years old but his career is at a crossroads
Gotze should be centre stage but instead, it belongs to Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland
Gotze will be watching on as a substitute when Dortmund meet his old side Bayern Munich
Instead, Gotze will spend Tuesday evening on the bench, mulling what might have been. His World-Cup winning strike in 2014 was recently voted ‘Goal of the Decade’ in Germany, but it is now six years now since his majestic moment in the Maracana. And they have been six long years indeed, full of injuries, illnesses, and countless false dawns.
On Saturday, Dortmund confirmed that Gotze would be leaving at the end of the season. ‘Mario is a really good guy…the decision was also made with him in mind,’ said sporting director Michael Zorc. ‘He is going to look for a new challenge, perhaps abroad.’
A new challenge, and a liberation from the heavy burden of Bayern and Dortmund, is arguably what Gotze has needed for a long time. One way or another, his affinity to these two clubs has always dragged him down, the rampant success of both teams – and the rivalry itself – laying an ever colder light on his own underachievement.
A Bayern fan as a boy, Gotze joined Dortmund at the age of eight and later established himself as a once-in-a-generation talent. His sparkling international debut against Brazil and explosive role in Jurgen Klopp’s double-winning Dortmund side made him the posterboy of a new dawn for German football, which had become a swashbuckling, rock’n’roll alternative to Europe’s bigger leagues.
Gotze is a once-in-a-generation talent but in recent years, has struggled to maintain sharpness
It was former Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp who got the best from Gotze at club level
At Bayern, he struggled to make a strong impact under the guidance of Pep Guardiola
When that period reached its peak with Bayern and Dortmund’s meeting in the 2013 Champions League Final, things were already turning sour for Gotze. Injured and about to move to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern, he watched from the stands as his new team won and his former fans decried him as Judas.
Working under Guardiola is something which can make or break a career, and for Gotze it appeared to be the latter. Plagued by injuries and unappreciated by the Catalan coach, he made less than 60 league starts in three years in Munich, before a shock return to Dortmund in 2016.
Yet somehow, the old magic had gone. A few months later, it emerged that Gotze had long been struggling with a metabolic disorder which played havoc with his fitness and his weight.
Over the next few years, he would be in and out of the Dortmund side, but never out of the headlines. Especially in light of his World Cup heroism, Gotze’s slow-motion decline has been a gruesome spectacle from which the nation has been unable to tear its eyes.
In his first ever pre-match interview as Dortmund coach, current boss Lucien Favre was asked whether he would find a role for Gotze. In the two years since, he has never stopped having to answer the same question.
On the international stage, Gotze won the World Cup with Germany, scoring in the 2014 final
Fast forward to 2020 and Gotze has made just five starts for the Dortmund side this season
He will leave the club at the end of the 2019-20 campaign and possibly move abroad
That is partly what moved the club to announce his departure last weekend. Dortmund wanted no distractions before the derby, and Gotze has long been the greatest distraction of them all.
In truth, he had been on his way out for a while. He has made just five starts this season, and his social media antics have reportedly irritated club bosses.
Alongside model wife Ann-Kathrin, the 27-year-old has refashioned himself as one half of an influencer power-couple in recent years. Last week, just days before Dortmund announced his departure, the two took on a TikTok challenge which involved him wearing a leopard-print dress.
‘Gotze can earn millions on social media without sweating every day in training,’ remarked Bild rather meanly on Monday. Yet in general, the 2014 World-Cup hero is still looked upon fondly in Germany. Most are desperate to see him find some kind of peace, even if it is outside the country.
‘He would be well advised to continue his career abroad. That’s the only way he can break the vicious circle which has seen him go from one setback to the next since 2014,’ wrote Bild. In a recent poll in Kicker magazine, only 18 percent of respondents said they thought Gotze should stay in Germany.
Where he should go is another matter. A move to England would arguably only bring the same problems he has at Dortmund. No longer the explosive player he once was, Gotze is ill-suited to the era of Haalands, Sanchos, Salahs and Sterlings. As Bild put it: ‘Football has moved on, he has stayed still’.
His social media antics – such as posing in a dress with his ‘influencer’ girlfriend – have left some of the Dortmund hierarchy unimpressed
Dortmund manager Lucian Favre has been repeatedly asked about Gotze since joining the club
Yet that is not entirely true. For a few months under Favre, it looked as if Gotze might be about to reinvent himself as a more cerebral number eight: less agile, perhaps, but no less quick-witted and creative. Some in Germany believe he may still have a future at a major European club.
‘When space is tight and it’s about short, quick passing, Gotze is still one of the best in German football,’ wrote Der Spiegel magazine. ‘In that regard, Barcelona could probably find a space for him without too much trouble.’
That may be a slight exaggeration. But there are other teams, whose game is less bombastic and more possession-based, where Gotze could yet find a home.
Yet that is not Dortmund, and it is not Bayern. On Tuesday, the world will watch those two teams battle it out for Bundesliga supremacy once again. Gotze, the decade’s supreme tragic hero, will also once again be a mere spectator.
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