The newly scheduled 19-20 Bundesliga kick-off may prove to be a triumph for German football, bringing to a close a stunningly competitive season which has seen the top four teams Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen within four points of each other at the top of the league for most of the season, but for one giant of Bundesliga football, the season’s curtain call will spell the end of a controversial career with the 18-19 Vice-Champions – Bundesliga preview by Ben McFadyean
The 19-20 season ends, if all plans go to schedule, and it is a big if under the shadow of the Covid-19 crisis, and the newly scheduled matches can be played out as planned by the German league the DFL with Borussia Dortmund’s home match against Hoffenheim on June 27. That match could also be the end of a Borussia Dortmund career for one ‘golden boy’, a player who many argue should never have been back with the ‘Black and Yellows’ in the first place following an abrupt 2013 Bayern transfer that left BVB fans in a state of blazing and impassioned fury the likes of which had not been seen since Thomas Helmer’s deception-laden transfer to the same Munich club in 1992.
Mario Götze’s time at Borussia Dortmund is running out – and planning the next move for the attacking-midfielder is becoming complicated. This is partly due to weaknesses in maintaining consistent performances, the 2014 World Cup hero has developed as a player but also that the footballer has, on a personal level, done a few things wrong in his career which are making the search for the next phase of his career that much more difficult.
Most professional footballers have matured enough in their late 20s to take on leadership positions in their team so that the number and duration of form lows are reduced to a minimum, but match performance is still at its peak. Mario Götze is 27 years old, and at that stage, most players would be described as experienced and mature. But somehow in Mario’s case, the sense of having matured to now being in his prime seems not to be applicable.
Mario Götze’s contract with Borussia Dortmund expires on 30 June 2020, a date which due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the need to newly schedule the remaining fixtures after an unwanted two-month gap in the season, coincides with the end of the 19-20 season. After years of injuries, missing most of 16/17 and only making 16 appearances in 17/18, Mario has experienced stagnation as a player and he probably at this stage has no future at Borussia Dortmund.
Borussia’s Managing Director Hans-Joachim Watzke was quoted this week in a television interview on German TV channel RTL as saying: “We will be seeking to have talks with Mario relatively quickly after the season kicks off again this weekend”. But putting all the recent rumours together, the talks between BVB’s managing director and the player are more likely to be more about Mario’s farewell on a matchday 34 that many, including neutral football observers, believe there is an outside chance of coinciding with celebrations of BVB’s 9th title, rather than about continuing the cooperation.
A great World Cup hero of 2014 is facing a sad end at BVB. As things stand, he will almost certainly play his last game in black and yellow in an empty stadium and wave goodbye into the cold lens of a TV camera instead of bathing in the warm affection of the applauding Südtribüne. But that is not the only unfavourable aspect of his untimely exit. The Corona-hit transfer market, matching that of the global economy, is at a low not seen since the oil crisis of the 1970s, we are in an era where player contracts can hardly be signed due to the current financial uncertainties most clubs face, making Götze’s outlook less certain even newly with the support of Emre Can and Lucien Favre’s agent Reza Fazeli.
In a recent article in Germany’s self-identified “number one football magazine”, Kicker Sportmagazin, Fazeli described Götze’s career planning as “not more difficult, just different”. Reassuringly the agent stated there have been “many constructive discussions”, but that a transfer is going to “take time”. Italy and Spain are supposed to appeal to the midfielder, and in that context, new names are constantly being circulated: AC and Inter Milan, Napoli, or Lazio are amongst the potential hiring clubs.
Reports are also in about interest from France including from Favre’s former team Ligue 1 OGC Nice who France’s football daily L’Equipe are quoted as saying are ‘supposedly closing in on an offer’.
The English Premier League, of course, will always be on the list for any player of Götze’s calibre – but with barely six weeks until the end of the season, nothing concrete in terms of the contract has surfaced so far, just the usual transfer rumbles. Even Götze himself couldn’t shed light in a recent interview, with Germany’s TV channel Sport 1, on his future plans “What the future holds in store for my career will only become clear when things get back to some sort of normal in the football world”. But a ‘Post-corona normality’ isn’t likely to come that quickly, what’s been increasingly clear now for some time is that the aftershocks of the pandemic will be felt across the football world and the transfer market.
Things are getting tight, but it could have been so different, wind the tape back to November when Hertha Berlin under new manager and former Tottenham darling Jürgen Klinsmann were courting the Memmingen-born player, Mario hoped to be able to collect the customary big signing on bonus this summer, as has long been standard for out of contract big-name signings. This summer due to the strained financial situation across professional football, that is fast looking like something of the past in probably the most unfavourable market for transfers in years.
Fazeli is going to be hard-pressed to be able to negotiate the type of top income, reported to be €10m per season, that Götze currently earns in Dortmund, elsewhere. There are great uncertainties in many countries: The leagues in Holland, Belgium and France have been brought to a close by the football authorities in those countries, this summer’s UEFA European Championship has been moved back by a year, nobody can realistically predict when the season will start in Italy, Spain or England. At best, as is being planned from this weekend in Germany, there will be months of games behind closed doors, which bring in vastly reduced income for the clubs and hence put a major hold on transfer budgets, that is the most likely outcome. In Götze’s private life there are strains also, a transfer would be compounded by the threat of quarantines and restriction on travel that make any move difficult. The fact that his wife model Ann-Kathrin is expecting their first child in the coming weeks only adds to the strain.
All but the most cynical Borussia Dortmund fan, those who felt most betrayed by the sudden transfer announcement to Bayern just weeks before the 2013 Champions League between the two clubs and there were many, will be wishing for a good finale for a career which has never seemed straightforward for the revered World Cup final hero. Mario’s own expectations have always weighed most on him. Looking back, it could be argued that had the player not been the World cup hero of the final of 2014, the midfielder’s career would, in retrospect, seem like the story of a failure.
Mario trained for two years as a child in the academy of a Borussia legend, and now a scout for his national team, who was arguably one of the most creative midfielders to have graced Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, Romanian international Marcel Raducanu, who was often quoted along with other experts as saying Mario could rise to the ‘football zenith of even a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo’. They seemed to be right, in 2014, that World-Cup final goal immortalised Götze alongside the Argentine and Portuguese giants, but even then with the hind-sight of the five seasons that have since past that Götze era feels almost like an inspired moment of one-off genius rather than the start of a stratospheric career to light up the world of football.
Hindsight is good, at the best of times, in football, as in any part of life, and Mario’s transfer to Bayern was everything other than accepted in Dortmund, especially how it came about after a 2013 interview with German newspaper Bild Zeitung where Mario stated he could see himself ‘seeing out his career Dortmund’ just weeks before his transfer announcement, maybe the rot had already set in before the 2014 World Cup. After his move to Bayern in 2013, a long period of stagnation set in, from which the players’ career has to date never seemed to have recovered.
In Munich, Pep Guardiola’s Götze hardly made the first team line up and when he did, he was more often than not substituted, the 22 goals scored in 73 matches is a ratio many players would be proud of, but in the most important moments of the season he usually ended up on the bench. After his controversial return to Dortmund, Mario also had strong periods, in particular, his dynamism in midfield made him a valuable team player in the 2018/19 season, but in recent times he will be remembered more for being a hard worker than the creator of moments of genius.
Ultimately though it’s the game itself that has changed, however, Mario has not changed with it, it’s no surprise that the lightning-fast Achraf Hakimi is one of the top performers in the Dortmund team this season, the pace of the game has been accelerating over the past ten years. The really big stars now are more like sprinters; Timo Werner, Niklas Süle, Kingsley Coman all clear the 100m in less than 10 seconds, but Götze has gone in the wrong direction. Driven by the star’s by now famed ambition and by the omnipresent expectations that fans have of any €10m man at the Westfalenstadion – in Dortmund money has always been worked hard for – Mario has seemed to have increasingly lost the ability to make the difference that made him stand-out.
In retrospect, the move to Bayern looks like a mistake; under Guardiola, Mario turned into a different player bulking up when he should have been developing his creativity. Ultimately who knows what would have happened if Götze had accepted the offer in 2016 from his old mentor Jürgen Klopp to transfer to Liverpool FC instead of coming back to Dortmund, perhaps he would have found, what just may turn out to be a new, but hopefully not final, role for the 27-year-old which he now has to look for under altogether more difficult circumstances.
Mario Götze will be on the bench for Borussia Dortmund’s restart of the 19-20 campaign, with BVB in second position, 4 points behind Bayern Munich, on matchday 26 against Schalke 04 this Saturday 16 May.