Germany is seemingly a bottomless well of footballing talent at the moment. First came Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Philipp Lahm; then Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller exploded at the 2010 World Cup; and now Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze look set to take the world by storm.
While Kroos is still establishing himself at Bayern Munich, Gotze is earning rave reviews as the star of the young Borussia Dortmund side that are chasing back-to-back Bundesliga titles. The subject of interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United, it is surely only a matter of time before Gotze joins Europe’s elite.
The only sticking point may be the young German’s attachment to the club he first joined as an eight-year-old. Rising through the Dortmund ranks, Gotze made his first-team debut in 2009 at the tender age of 17. That year, he was named Player of the Tournament as Germany won the European Under-17 Championship title.
For the club, however, Gotze remained a bit-part player until an injury to Japanese ace Shinji Kagawa in January 2011 gifted him his big opportunity. And the rest is history; the young German exploded onto the scene in the second half of the 2010/11 season, scoring eight goals and setting up 12 more, as Jurgen Klopp’s reinvigorated Dortmund side ran away to a shock seventh Bundesliga title. Statistically, Gotze was the best 18-year-old the Bundesliga has ever seen.
This season, the starlet has continued his meteoric rise. After a slow start to the campaign, Dortmund returned to the top of the table on Sunday with a 2-0 derby win over Schalke. Last Saturday, Gotze scored the winner in a critical 1-0 win at Bayern Munich, pouncing on a Jerome Boateng error, erasing any doubt over his ice-cold nerves on the big occasion.
The young playmaker has scored six goals and created seven in just 17 games, forming a lethal creative partnership with Kagawa behind a lone striker. With Paraguayan hitman Lucas Barrios only now returning from injury, Gotze’s development in front of goal could not have come at a better time.
The German is not the tallest or the strongest, but he more than makes up for this with his unselfish movement, speed and vision. Usually deployed in a free role, the Memmingen-born schemer floats from wing to wing, making great use of his quick feet and dribbling skills. Predominantly right-footed, Gotze is more than comfortable on his left, especially when shooting – he is also a playmaker with determination and industry, unafraid to get involved. Young Schalke midfielder Julian Draxler this week described his Dortmund rival as one of Europe’s best and a role model for Germany’s youngsters – and it is unlikely any Bundesliga defender who has faced his quick-footed brilliance would disagree.
But Gotze is, of course, in no way the finished article. A few moments of skill aside, his introduction to Champions League football has largely been one to forget. His talented but naive Dortmund side have struggled in a tough group alongside Arsenal, Marseille and Olympiacos. Having only taken four points from five matches thus far, the Ruhr giants must now beat Marseille in their final match to qualify for the Europa League. From a personal perspective, Gotze has not shone as he would have wished to on Europe’s biggest stage, but the experience will be invaluable.
On the international scene, Gotze has already made 12 appearances for Germany, scoring goals against Austria and Brazil. Competing against the likes of Ozil and Muller, the 19-year-old has so far had to accept a squad role, but he is pressing hard for a place in Joachim Low’s starting eleven. With Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos sitting behind, and goal-machine Mario Gomez up top, Gotze is part of an exciting German side capable of pushing world champions Spain to the limit at Euro 2012 next summer.
So far, Dortmund have fended off all interest in their young star and recently director of sport Michael Zorc stated his determination to keep Gotze at the club next season: “I am 99% sure Mario Gotze will play next season at Borussia Dortmund.” However, admirers are flocking and offers of around £30M will no doubt be forthcoming.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, renowned for his talent spotting eye, has described the 19-year-old as “talented” and “a very good player”, while Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s brother and chief scout Martin Ferguson has urged the Red Devils to beat Arsenal to Gotze’s signature, so sure is he of the player’s potential.
Despite Dortmund’s best efforts, speculation is mounting. This week, a source close to Gotze put Arsenal in the driving seat: “He likes the way Arsenal play the game and for him there are only two clubs where he’d like to play once he moves from Dortmund – Arsenal or Barcelona.”
Having lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, Wenger sees Gotze as an ideal replacement to kick-start Arsenal’s rejuvenation. At this stage though, the young German looks likely to remain at Dortmund until the end of the season, when he hopes to win a second Bundesliga title. For the 2012/3 season, however, Gotze could well be terrorising Premier League defences.