Almost 10 years after Mario Götze was crowned as European football’s Golden Boy, there’s still a perception outside Germany about their ‘once in a century talent’ which doesn’t paint a complete picture about his career.
The 27-year-old announced earlier this month how he would be leaving Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer at the end of the season, which prompted the ill-informed, albeit, hardly surprising, comments about Götze being ‘sub-par’ or ‘past his best’ these days.
Journalists in the football media landscape, on the whole, have an all-too-common practice of throwing out stock phrases for players who they haven’t really watched, hoping their readers take any passing comments as gospel and move on.
While these latest opinions on Götze’s career aren’t completely off the mark, suggesting the Germany international has nothing to offer at the highest level – while also completely ignoring his almost career-ending illness – couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s a common theme which Premier League fans have to deal with whenever a player arrives from overseas. Sébastien Haller’s goalscoring ability was highlighted more than his interplay when he joined West Ham last year, while even now no one can quite understand how to categorise Granit Xhaka.
The same will happen with Götze too, as writers look to publish their articles to tight deadlines based off what they remember about the midfielder from almost a decade ago.
Before his goal which won Germany the World Cup and prior to his groundbreaking move to Bayern Munich, the eyes of the world were on Götze – a nimble and skilful playmaker who had just scooped the Golden Boy award as a teenager.
Götze’s move to Bayern Munich after the all-German Champions League final in 2013 was monumental. One of the most exciting, in-demand young footballers European football had ever seen had joined the Bavarians for £33m and it wasn’t a bad start for him at the Allianz Arena either.
He was directly involved in 28 goals in his first season under Pep Guardiola. But even after perfectly responding to Joachim Löw’s challenge to “show you are better than Messi” in the World Cup final the following summer, that was as good as it got for Götze at Bayern.
Just three years later, Götze returned to Borussia Dortmund with his tail between his legs. The expectations on his shoulders had taken its toll, perhaps in a way we’ll never quite understand, but his biggest battle was still to come.
Halfway through his first season back at the Westfalenstadion, Götze was diagnosed with a rare metabolic illness known as myopathy. It’s a muscle disease which can’t be cured and, in extreme cases, can even be fatal.
Götze missed months of football. From his last appearance on 29 January, 2017, the Germany international didn’t feature again until seven months later. But he didn’t just miss a big chunk of game time like players do with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
During that time, Götze didn’t know if he’d ever play football again.
The illness Götze had affected his fatigue and his weight, but it wasn’t something which only impacted him after being diagnosed.
It’s something which he’s likely had to deal with throughout his career, which, in hindsight, leaves a bit of a sinister feeling to the nickname Pummelfee (in English, that’s ‘chubby fairy’) which he was given at Dortmund the first time around because he struggled to lose weight after an injury.
As Götze’s career has progressed, fans have had front row seats watching what effect the illness has had on his playing style.
It’s true that the 27-year-old doesn’t play like he used to. There aren’t many exciting runs around the edge of the box and he can’t dance around opponents anymore, but Götze has adapted brilliantly and just last year was one of Borussia Dortmund’s best players.
These days, Götze isn’t used as an attacking midfielder. He was preferred over Paco Alcácer at the spearhead of Dortmund’s attack throughout large chunks of last season, adopting somewhat of a ‘false nine’ role which really helped Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho thrive.
That’s not to say Götze will come into the Premier League as a striker – the last thing anyone with a muscle disease needs is to have old-fashioned English defenders kicking chunks out of them – but the 27-year-old will still have plenty to offer elsewhere, especially for those in the top half of the table.
England international Sancho was the only Borussia Dortmund player who made more key passes per game than Götze last season, while across the entire league he was successfully dribbling past players at the same rate as Timo Werner.
Yes, Götze’s career hasn’t turned out the way many had expected and he’s a very different player to the one who captured everyone’s imagination a decade ago.
But the beloved German Wunderkind, who Felix Magath famously described as a “once in a century talent”, still has a lot left in the tank and he might just bring the perfect injection of excitement which Premier League teams are craving ahead of the 2020/21 season.
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