Best yet to come for young Götze
Young Mario Götze has turned heads as a member of the German soccer team
Look for Götze, just 19, to follow in the footsteps of others as the sport's future
His unassuming nature and level-headedness have captured fans worldwide
Brazil was beaten 3-2 last Wednesday night, but there was one fierce battle German football couldn't quite win the following day. Despite all their better instincts, journalists and fans were enraptured over the performance of Mario Götze, the scorer of Germany's second goal. Zeit Online's take was all too telling in that respect: In one sentence, it made fun of "experts in danger of losing their grip on reality" only to claim earnestly that Götze was "shining like [Franz] Beckenbauer did in 1966" in the next. "It doesn't take much to predict that Götze, who's not yet a regular in the national team, will embark on a world career", the Berlin-based publication added. Seleçăo coach Mano Menezes concurred: "Götze has a great future ahead of himself".
Elsewhere, you could read of "Götzinho, the white Brazilian" (Bild), of "Germany's new Mr. Right" (Spiegel), of "the German Messi" (Sport1), of a "little god" (Stern) even. A bit much for a 19-year-old with only one full Bundesliga season under his belt and no experience whatsoever in the Champions League? Lars Ricken, scorer of a superb goal in Dortmund's 1997 Champions League final win against Juventus was showered with similar praise as a 17-year-old before rapidly fading away. Sebastian Deisler, too, was once the future of German football. The former Bayern Munich midfielder retired at 27, after a career stricken by knee injuries and mental health problems. Götze was smart enough to make light of all the accolades. "You cannot really plan your career like that because you never know what might happen," he told Kicker magazine, "there are things like injuries and private problems that might influence you on your decisions. That's why I only plan short term. I am really looking forward to the new season."
Ironically, Götze's remarkable level-headedness has only fed the hype even further. "He's probably the coolest 19-year old German football's ever seen", wrote Stern. It's certainly hard not be a impressed by his unassuming nature. How many league champions and international players live with their parents, in a typically middle-class terraced house, in a typically middle-class part of Dortmund? On the pitch, where Germany manager Joachim Löw praised his "spatial awareness and maturity", Götze said "it's all about right or wrong: you need to make that decision again and again."
And the same holds true off it, too, of course. Götze, who excelled in arts and math, went against the advice of his university professor father (data technology) to finish school one year before his A-Levels. "I wanted to stop to improve my body and have the time to work on that on a daily basis," Götze told 11 Freunde magazine, "because I had played five Bundesliga games in the season before last, I knew about the extreme (physical) difference (between games for the seniors and for the youth team)."
Last season, Götze was so devastatingly brilliant in the 3-1 win at Leverkusen -- the game that, in hindsight, sealed the title for Borussia -- that manager Jürgen Klopp felt moved to take him off; one of his many humiliated opponents might just have reverted to violence otherwise. Him being just too good will also, potentially, be a problem for Dortmund. Not a game goes by without scouts from many of Europe's clubs watching him, not a day without someone purporting to work on behalf of a big club trying to sweet-talk his agent, Volker Struth.
Sport-Bild reported three months ago, when Götze renewed his contract, all parties agreed he would definitely see out this season at the Westfalenstadion, come what may. The player realizes playing in a team that's settled and still growing is more advisable at this stage. Even his agent is convinced that it would be too early to go abroad for him. But there were some concrete offers before the end of last season and there will be more before this month is out. Dortmund have issued a hands-off statement -- "I can't see any circumstances under which Real Madrid or Barcelona could make us agree a transfer at the moment", the club's CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Sport-Bild -- but the Black and Yellows do admit that they'd find it hard to deny him "a dream move to three or four clubs in the world" (Watzke) in 2012 or 2013. Bayern Munich are emphatically not on that short list, insist Dortmund. "We'd be totally mad to let him go there," Watzke said.
"It's possible," Götze replied, when asked by Kicker whether anyone could become a superstar at Borussia. "If we play successfully and do well in the Champions League, there's no reason why not. But, of course, teams like Barcelona and Madrid are always interesting." And the feeling is likely to be mutual. As Süddeutsche Zeitung noted, the 5-foot-9 Götze plays a kind of "Spanish football" -- technically adept, quick on the turn, strong on balance and imagination. It's a mouth-watering prospect to think of him lining up next to Madrid's Mesut Özil (rested in the Brazil friendly) in the Euro qualifier against Austria next month. A few weeks later, Germany football's worst-kept secret will be well and truly out once the Champions League comes around. At that point many supporters will ask "why didn't we bid for him?". The answer is, your club probably did. Only one outfit will be able to count themselves lucky, however, that didn't succeed this summer: the Götze they'll eventually get will be destined to attract even more ridiculous superlatives down the line.
SI Now Live Friday December 20, 2013
SI Now: Olympians on Liberty Mutual, gearing up for Sochi