Alasdair Hooper looks at the rise and fall of Dortmund attacker Mario Götze.
Martin Demichelis can only look on. He has taken a couple of steps up the field with one eye on Thomas Müller, but it soon becomes clear the German forward isn’t going to be involved in the play.
Instead Germany’s left winger – someone by the name of Andre Schürrle – is motoring down the flank and fires in a cross, despite being closed down by Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta.
The cross loops over Demichelis’ head and that’s when he realises Mario Götze is unmarked just yards away from the Argentine goal. The 22-year-old attacker controls the cross on his chest and, with no other options available, lashes his left foot at the ball.
His shot sails past Sergio Romero and suddenly the name Mario Götze is etched in World Cup history.
Not only has he won the tournament in extra time for his country, he has shown the world he is better than Messi at the same time.
Lionel Messi, himself, is at the other end of the pitch looking on with the rest of his team as the German players celebrate their 113th-minute winner.
This was Mario Götze’s stage.
“Götze is a miracle boy, a boy wonder”
“Show the world you are better than Messi,” Germany head coach Joachim Löw tells Götze during half-time, in extra time, of that 2014 World Cup Final
For several pundits and football fans that could well have been true. Götze, at the age of just 22, had already won the Bundesliga three times, twice with Borussia Dortmund and once with Bayern Munich. He was a special talent – a ‘boy wonder’ according to his national team manager – but it hasn’t materialised as everyone expected to.
At the end of this football season, whenever that will be, the 2014 World Cup winner will be available on a free transfer when his contract ends with Borussia Dortmund, who he re-joined in 2016.
He is 27 years old and should be at his peak. So, what happened to Germany’s miracle boy after his heroics in the Maracana?
“I always had a good feeling about Götze,” Löw said after Germany’s World Cup final victory. Argentina were becoming more and more tired, but we had players who could make a difference. Götze is a miracle boy, a boy wonder. He can play any position up front.
“I know he’s always able to decide a match, and it was a great winner he scored. But in extra time we had the energy to move forward.
“We didn’t want to go to penalties. We wanted the game decided before then, and we put them under more pressure.”
Götze remained at Bayern Munich for two more seasons after that World Cup and the glowing endorsement from his national team boss. But this is the point that his upward trajectory took a turn.
While he did bag 15 goals in the 2014-15 season, he was in and out of the line-up and struggled for consistency. He wasn’t showing the world he was better than Messi as the Argentinean scored 58 goals for Barcelona during that period.
While 15 goals would often be seen as a perfectly fine return for most midfielders, more was expected from Götze particularly when he was turning out for a club like Bayern Munich.
Honorary club president and Bayern legend Franz Beckenbauer certainly demanded more when he likened the player to a child.
“He behaves and moves around on the pitch like a youth player,” he told Sky in May 2015.
“He just stops moving when he loses a duel. This is the behaviour of a child. This kind of behaviour does not fit in at Bayern. It is time for him to grow up. He has shown at Dortmund what he can do and we know that he is a great talent. But there is still something missing.”
A damaging diagnosis
Something was missing – but that would only be discovered at a later date.
Instead, Götze would last just one more season at Bayern following those Beckenbauer comments and constant criticism about his fitness levels.
Throughout the 2015-16 campaign, he only featured 21 times in all competitions and scored just six goals.
In July 2016, he re-joined Borussia Dortmund, the team that had originally made him a star, in attempt to find that missing ingredient his play had lacked for the last couple of seasons.
But once again it was an inconsistent start, with the occasional flashes that reminded everyone of the talent he had.
But in February 2017 came the hammer blow and the realisation that there was indeed something missing for Götze. It just came in a manner that no one really anticipated.
The following month he was diagnosed with myopathy, a muscular disorder that affects the fibres in the muscles. It also causes weakness and rapid fatigue in the muscles, which is particularly hard for an athlete as it can delay the recovery period needed.
Götze had been criticised for his fitness and his ‘overweight’ appearance for so long – now everyone realised that there was a perfectly valid reason that had never been considered. Just like that the attitude shifted from Götze being a gifted youngster with no appetite to work hard. Now he was the ‘boy wonder’ whose gifts were being robbed by an underlying health condition.
A new Mario Götze
Just a few days ago, Borussia Dortmund announced that Götze would be leaving the club once his contract expired. In truth that wasn’t exactly the best-kept secret.
So, what do we make of the Mario Götze we have here and now, rather than the one who stunned Argentina’s defence in the World Cup final?
If you were limited to a 200-word article, you would say Götze never again hit the high notes that he managed prior to scoring that goal in 2014. The exhilarating, nimble and skilful playmaking abilities that helped him find his way into Jurgen Klopp’s title-winning Dortmund team at the age of just 18 seemed very much like a thing of the past.
But it isn’t as simple as that. Obviously, the diagnosis has a huge part to play in Götze’s career, he did miss seven months of football for it to be treated and it isn’t a condition that can be cured.
But there is something people have overlooked. Of course, Götze never again lived up to the hype of being a once-in-a-generation attacking midfielder. What he did do, however, is reinvent the type of player he was and that still makes him a valuable asset.
To get the best example of this you have to look back to last season, where Götze would often feature as a false nine in Dortmund’s line-up.
He was often preferred to Paco Alcácer up front and only Jadon Sancho made more key passes per game than Götze did.
This season, he hasn’t fitted in as well to Dortmund’s style of play with new signing Erling Haaland becoming star of the show as they aim for the Bundesliga title.
Götze hasn’t had as much game time as he would have liked but it speaks volumes about his character that his exit has been handled as well as it has.
It remains to be seen where the next stage of the German’s career will take him. Many have suggested the Premier League, although he should have plenty of clubs interested in him.
But the important thing is you will not be getting the Götze of old. The pre-World Cup Mario Götze no longer exists. Instead you will be getting a player who is perfectly adept at functioning in the false nine role.
As long as clubs remember that, then Mario Götze has a positive future.
You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992