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Misunderstood Gotze needs to rekindle World Cup magic

Mario Gotze’s medal haul would becloud that of even some of the most seasoned professionals

Ross Dunbar

Published: Updated:

Mario Gotze’s medal haul would becloud that of even some of the most seasoned professionals.

It reads: four Bundesliga championships - two with Borussia Dortmund and two at Bayern Munich - and two German Cups, one in red and one in yellow; UEFA Super Cup winner, FIFA World Club Cup winner and, of course, World Cup winner. Gotze’s winning goal in extra-time inspired the German national side to a 1-0 win over Argentina in Rio.

But with Bayern Munich navigating through their toughest period - at least in terms of results with four straight defeats - since 1991, the usual cast of former players and powerful figures have looked to find a scapegoat for the club’s ills, the 3-0 trouncing at the hands of Barcelona the lowest point since the last semi-final. This time, it has been Gotze on the end of the waves of scrutiny.

He sometimes looks like a youth player to me, the way he loses the ball and just stops playing. That behaviour is a little bit juvenile. It just doesn’t fit at FC Bayern.

Franz Beckenbauer

Some of that has bordered on the ridiculous - the German was forced to apologize after sharing a quick moment with friend and Barcelona goalie Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Camp Nou. Yet long before the calamitous performance in Catalonia, or the German Cup defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund, both of which closing the chapter on a repeat of the 2013 treble, the knives have been out for the attacking-midfielder.

“It’s time for him to finally grow up,” said Franz Beckenbauer on German TV. “He sometimes looks like a youth player to me, the way he loses the ball and just stops playing. That behaviour is a little bit juvenile. It just doesn’t fit at FC Bayern.

“We of course know that he’s an outstanding talent. But he has yet to translate it [into consistent performances].”

“What’s the problem?” responded Pep Guardiola before the 1-0 defeat at home to Augsburg. “Mario is a sensitive player and a great professional. He is the best professional I’ve ever seen.”

Misunderstood, enigmatic, or hidden brilliance

It’s the weight, the chains, that will drag along behind the 22-year-old whatever he accomplishes - or doesn’t - in the coming years. Preparing himself to come on in the World Cup final as an extra-time substitution, the player was given one last pep talk by national team coach Joachim Low: “Tell the world you’re better than Messi.”

By scoring the match-winning goal, upstaging the Argentine rascal on the biggest stage in world football to bag Germany’s fourth World Cup win, Gotze was immediately tossed into stardom.

Football regularly provides those impulsive moments that can define a player’s public reputation. The player who scores the goal is normally lauded, the one who makes the unnecessary fault is under-fire regardless of what happens elsewhere.

Georgia’s Lasha Dvali, center, and Georgia’s goalkeeper Giorgi Loria, left, fight for the ball with Germany’s Mario Gotze, right, during the Euro 2016 qualifying match between Germany and Georgia, in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
Georgia’s Lasha Dvali, center, and Georgia’s goalkeeper Giorgi Loria, left, fight for the ball with Germany’s Mario Gotze, right, during the Euro 2016 qualifying match between Germany and Georgia, in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)

That moment in Rio appears to have bought Mario some time. His style, his strengths and preferences are opaque, while the ever-changing strategy under Guardiola has meant the player hasn’t been any able to establish his own position.

At Borussia Dortmund, the Bavarian-born attacker was on course to become one of the dynamic, quick-thinking number 10s on the planet. The way that he could explode into action, like the flick of switch, made him the perfect fit for Jurgen Klopp’s style.

This season, Gotze has turned out some solid, yet unassuming performances, acting as the attacking hub on the left-hand side of the attack. With David Alaba and Juan Bernat shuttling around him, his one-touch passes and small involvements in the game were far from eye-catching, but mandatory to making this side tick.

But with Guardiola’s ideals becoming ever blurred of late as things seem to implode around him, Gotze has been cast back into the limelight - there’s no Arjen Robben, or Franck Ribery, to turn a game on its head meaning the former Dortmund ace is pretty much the side’s foremost attacking player.

His rate of return isn’t terrible either: 30 goals in 90 appearances for the Bavarians with 20 assists. Yet numbers aside, there’s always a sense that he isn’t quite applying himself as effectively as he could.

Showing what it means

Aside from the wonderful talents on show at the Camp Nou last week, the sheer determination and will-to-win of Barca’s front-three - Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi - was a sign of how much the Catalans want to win this competition. Maybe Beckenbauer does have a point, even as cold as he appeared on German TV.

This season, Gotze has turned out some solid, yet unassuming performances, acting as the attacking hub on the left-hand side of the attack.

Ross Dunbar

When opponents charge around, particularly in the Bundesliga, at breakneck speeds to prove a point against the record-winning German champions, Gotze stands like a rabbit in the headlights at times. One Munich-based newspaper even described the 22-year-old as ‘just a large poster of a teen magazine.’

Whatever the true reason, Gotze holds a hint of Robben in his younger days - the player doesn’t quite conform to the demands of supporters. He stands on the periphery of the game and his body language can sometimes appear lazy or disinterested.

Now in his third season at Bayern, the demands on Gotze are shooting up - this is no longer a new kid on the block who is finding his feet at the Allianz Arena. And with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robben approaching their final years, the World Cup winner still has a pivotal role to play when the club goes through the transition of old-to-new.

Helping resurrect Bayern’s season, or even just earning a bit of kudos in defeat, would go a long way in getting Gotze back on track.

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