Bayern Munich met Borussia Dortmund in a final of the entire Bundesliga Champions League after dropping Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Yet much of the attention before the game and the soap opera in 2013 concerned a player who wouldn’t play, with some dark murmurs even questioning how fully his fitness struggle had been waged.
“The final was my big goal and I’ve fought hard for it in the past few weeks,” said Mario Gotze, Dortmund’s brilliant 20-year-old striker. “I’m incredibly sorry I can’t help the team in this important game.”
The sincerity of this apology was questioned as it was the jewel in Jürgen Klopp’s BVB on the eve of the semi-final against Madrid and the great hope of German football would join Bayern after its 37 million euro release clause was triggered.
“We do not know why the people who leaked this did so in such a delicate time. We can only speculate, but we all make the same assumptions,” said Klopp in a barely veiled blow at Bayern.
After the 4-1 win against Madrid in the first leg – Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals – Dortmund was hit by Gotze in the initial phase of the return in Santiago Bernabeu, who pulled the Achilles tendon. It was the last game of his first game in the club and he watched as his teammates lost 1-2 to his colleagues in the near future.
Seven years later, Gotze is back in Dortmund after costing the highest level of football and surviving miserable lows. Another announcement has been made about leaving Signal Iduna Park and it is unlikely that he will play against Bayern on Tuesday. Only this time, these twin factors shrug rather than scream.
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Gotze wasn’t the first player to cross the classic divide, and Robert Lewandowski and Mats Hummels would soon follow his lead.
But this defect went deep because ‘Super Mario’ was one of their own – a youth product that arrived as an eight-year-old and gave Klopp’s counterpress machine an irresistible X-factor.
He also seemed to torture the Bavarians.
Gotze got two assists when Dortmund won 3-1 in the Allianz Arena in 2011. It was the first away win in 20 years.
This result cleared any doubt that Klopp’s men were on their way to the title. The following season, FC Bayern opened an early lead of five points, only that Gotze scored the only goal in the game in question and triggered a successful Bundesliga defense.
The triple-bound stars of Jupp Heynckes prevailed in 2012/13, although Gotze scored a equalizer to secure a 1-1 draw at Allianz.
These repeated successes on enemy territory underscored how heavy his loss was for Dortmund. For Gotze – a player named “German Messi” who was ready to team up with Messi’s mentor – it was impossible to see a disadvantage.
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When he returned to Signal Iduna Park in November 2013, Gotze came from the bank to an angry barrack, in which the classic was locked 0-0.
A hit with the right shoe opened the scoring, and all other Bayern players mobbed the non-solemn man of the moment. Late goals from Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller ended a 3-0 win, and Pep Guardiola’s team did not look back on a procession to the Bundesliga title.
This goal under such hot observation would have been the highlight of any normal season.
But on July 13, 2014 in the Maracana Gotze took a cool stand against Andre Schurrle’s cross and deflected a volley with his left foot past Sergio Romero to give Germany a 1-0 win against Argentina in the World Cup final.
Messi and others were moved to tears on the lawn and Gotze was the toast of world football when he celebrated with Rhianna in Rio.
His career was on the way to becoming a star, although a closer examination of life in Munich indicated the problems ahead.
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Gotzes portrayal as a Bayern flop is unfair if you only look at the individual numbers he returned and three consecutive Bundesliga medals that he put in his pocket.
An injury-related last season in Bavaria in 2015-16 preceded a price drop to Dortmund and did a lot to strengthen this perception. Ultimately, the boundless promise of his early years means that Gotze is only perceived as a failure.
The goal to break Dortmund’s heart was one of ten in 27 Bundesliga games in 2013/14, 20 of which followed nine out of 32, before he was restricted to eleven league starts in his and Guardiola’s last season at the Allianz Arena.
“Technically, [Guardiola] was an enormous asset, “Gotze told DAZN in an interview in 2018 in which he described Klopp as his” soccer father “.
“But he’s very focused on the game and doesn’t think about players outside of his plan. He didn’t have a lot of empathy, and empathy is part of being a world-class coach.”
Despite the hard work of both men, the marriage of superstar coach and star signing never really clicked. The prospect that Gotze would become Messi’s fake nine disappeared when Lewandowski arrived to take on his more traditional and productive role as a center forward.
There was another classic goal in a 5-1 win over Dortmund in 2015, but tellingly, Gotze didn’t start any of the six Champions League semi-finals that defined Guardiola’s Bayern domination. In each phase of the overall loss to Atletico Madrid in 2016, he was an unused substitute.
Dortmund greeted his lost son back with open arms, although the injury problems that persecuted him at Bayern would not go away.
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The last of Gotzes 16 appearances in 2016-17 took place in January. A month later, he was indefinitely withdrawn from training for a metabolic disorder.
It explained its persistent injuries and struggles with weight gain and made fools of those who suspected bad play at Wembley in 2013. When the problem was identified, there was optimism about rehabilitation and redemption.
It was only when Gotze came back that he did this to a Dortmund team in disarray.
The trauma of the nail bomb attack on her team bus before a quarter-final of the Champions League against Monaco in 2017 preceded Thomas Tuchel’s chaotic departure as head coach.
Peter Bosz followed when the form collapsed in mid-2017/18 and Gotze had an uneasy relationship with interim chief Peter Stoger.
“We argued with Mario because he didn’t do anything that was said to him,” said the coach after replacing the striker at half-time when Dortmund left the Europa League.
Lucien Favre succeeded Stoger and monitored a rejuvenation that enabled Dortmund again to end Bavaria’s supremacy in Tuesday’s classic.
But this is a team fired by the youthful brilliance of Achraf Hakimi, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland. A team that looks like the future that Gotze once was. A team for which he last started in December and which he will leave free of charge at the end of this season.
“At the moment we are playing in the 3-4-3 formation, so I spoke to Mario Gotze and unfortunately this is not the right system for him,” said Favre, before properly serving as an unused substitute 2-0 on Saturday Victory in Wolfsburg.
The explanation doesn’t really stand up to the test if you look at Julian Brandt’s dazzling style of play at Schalke’s recent 4-0 demolition, which is nominally to the right of the top three, but wreaking havoc with intelligent movement and silky touches.
In the best case, Gotze could use the strongest defenses. But he is far from these heights or the fearless boy who dripped with speed and menace. Joachim Low has mourned the death of this version and a player he has cut once since 2016.
This is the sadness in Gotzes abandoned exit from The Classic, a fixed point that he once threatened to dominate. He apparently had everything and at 27, soon without a club, you are remorsefully wondering how much he has left.