His career has been on a downward trajectory but a fresh start in the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven could see the return of Super Mario
How can you keep climbing the mountain when you’ve already reached the summit?
It is a question worth pondering in relation to the rollercoaster career of one Mario Götze. He had only just turned 22 when he found himself at the peak of any footballer’s career after scoring the winning goal in the 2014 World Cup Final against Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Back then the diminutive attacking midfielder had the world at his feet. And the trophy to boot. He was just a year into his career with a Bayern Munich team that had just won the German Bundesliga, DFP Polka, Club World Cup and Super Cup. He had also been dubbed, perhaps unfairly, ‘Germany’s Messi’.
However, since that summer he has seemingly been tumbling down the other side. A combination of injury problems, illness and struggles for consistency inevitably restricted his game time and diminished his confidence. One of the bright stars of World football had seemingly faded, with a rescue package offered by former club Borussia Dortmund to save him from his Munich misery ultimately failing to spark the old Götze back to life.
Now, he has left Germany for a fresh start in the Netherlands, recently signing a two year contract with PSV Eindhoven after his deal with Dortmund had run its course. When Götze originally moved to Bayern Munich from fierce rivals Dortmund on the eve of their 2013 Champions League Final, it was the biggest football story around the globe. It is a sign of how much things have changed that this latest move barely left a ripple on the footballing Richter Scale.
Nevertheless, things could suddenly be starting to look-up for Super Mario.
He has netted 3 goals in his first 6 appearances for PSV, with the first just eight minutes into his debut. What’s more, he could well be about to return from the international wilderness to add to his 63 caps, the last of which was earned in 2017, with German national team manager Joachim Low recently stating that Götze is on his radar once again.
So is this the last chance for Götze to rediscover the qualities that once made him one of the most sought after attacking midfielders in the game?
There is an argument that there will always be a team seeking a player who is moving ever closer to 100 senior goals and assists. He is also still just 28 years old with many years ahead of him. Yet if he wishes to still be playing regularly in the top European leagues, or achieve his stated desire of playing for Germany at the European Championships next summer, then this is a career tipping point.
Of premier importance is regular game time. Some players become infamous for always being injured, and it’s a reputation now following the man from Memmingen. Not counting the unfortunate periods of illness, he has had a total of 14 different injuries from 2015 to the end of last season. That’s only two fewer than his total number of Bundesliga goals in the same time. If he can get back to playing week-in, week-out at PSV and build up confidence in his body as well as his ability, then Götze could fly in this season’s Eredivisie. If he again struggles with the rigours of a busy season, the critics will be swarming again.
A lot has been made of Götze’s struggles in coming to terms with the weight of expectation dropped onto his shoulders after that famous moment in the Maracanã. As explained by Joachim Low, who Götze remains in contact with, “Everything was always focused on him. He had a backpack on with the 2014 goal, which must have been a heavy burden.” A fresh start is arguably exactly what is needed for a player who has never been able to play away from the burning domestic spotlight. Reading his recent interviews gives a clear impression that there is a strong desire to get his career back on track. If that is to happen, he surely needs to simply start enjoying playing the game again – a liberated mindset being crucial for a player whose game is based on imagination, flair and creativity.
If he is to take what could be a final chance, he will also need to adapt his own game. The debate about the modern relevance of traditional ‘number 10s’ is one for another time. More pressing is if he can get the measure of PSV’s traditional 4-2-4 formation, based on fast-paced movement on and off the ball. His new Manager Roger Schmidt has said Götze “has the gift to make his teammates around him better”, but he will need to find a new role either out wide or as a more advanced forward if that is to happen.
A lot of players can only dream of having the winners medals Götze already has in his collection. Yet as it stands, if his career were to end now there would be a prevailing feeling of it being one of unfulfillment, which didn’t quite hit the heavy heights it was expected to. Of a star that burnt brightly, but flickered out far too quickly.
With the re-scheduled European Championship next summer, and a new environment to thrive in before then, Eindhoven could well be the remaking of a player any football fan would love to see climbing that mountain once again.
Header photo credit: PSV Eindhoven
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