Mario Götze’s FIFA World Cup-winning goal for Germany in 2014 was the summit of a career whose first steps were taken at Borussia Dortmund. bundesliga.com charts the path that took the Eintracht Frankfurt man on a journey from BVB and the Bundesliga title to Bayern Munich and then back.
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“We are very thankful to Mario’s father that he came from the Allgäu [region] to Dortmund,” said Jürgen Klopp in 2010. The former BVB coach was one of the most grateful of all that Jürgen Götze, a university professor, took up a teaching post in Dortmund in 1997 when his son was just five years old.
Götze was born in southern Germany and even spent some of his early years in Houston, Texas, where his dad worked at Rice University. Mario might even have pulled on a USA shirt if the Götze family had stayed stateside for longer – get dreaming about that USMNT fans! – but a return to Europe was the first step in the making of a German national hero.
Watch: Götze is back in form with Eintracht Frankfurt
“Mario never had to look down like the other boys. He always knew what the ball was doing,” said Christian Droese, who witnessed Götze’s ball-to-foot telepathy first-hand as his coach at FC Eintracht Hombruch. That was the local club in the family’s Dortmund neighbourhood, where the eight-year-old Götze was so good he was playing with the U11s.
“On the pitch, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” Droese continued. “All that counts is whether you can play. And Mario was quite simply the best.”
Götze had not yet reached double figures in years when he was signed by Dortmund in 2001. In a very short space of time, he was turning heads as he showed he had the attitude as well as the ability to make an impact at the very top of the game. “I’ve never seen anyone like Mario,” said youth team coach Peter Hyballa. “He’s so young and yet plays…already so grown up.”
The attacking midfielder won the Fritz Walter gold medal for Germany’s top young player in the U17 category in 2009, and by the time he won it again as an U18 the following year he had already made his Dortmund first-team debut. On 21 November 2009 – aged 17 years and five months – Götze stepped onto the pitch in a goalless draw with Mainz, playing two of the 41 top-flight minutes he would accumulate that season.
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Not many, admittedly, but more than most teenagers, who are usually studying for school-leaving exams or fretting over first job interviews at that age. In the following 12 months he moved even further away from the usual concerns of his peers. It was the definition of a breakthrough season as he made 29 starts in the league and missed just a single Bundesliga match.
Götze contributed six goals and a stunning 15 assists alongside the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Lucas Barrios and Robert Lewandowski as Dortmund won the title. He also made his UEFA Champions League debut, with Klopp proving himself to be the ideal boss to nurture and nourish his fledgling talent.
“He gave me what I needed at that time and simply put his faith in me. That’s the most important thing you need from a coach at the start – that he has your back 100 per cent,” said Götze recently of his former mentor and current Liverpool manager. “He helped me a lot to keep my feet on the ground. He manages the whole off-the-pitch stuff sensationally.”
On the pitch Götze was just as exceptional, and he made his Germany debut aged just 18 years and five months in November 2010. “We’ve never had a talent like Mario,” claimed former BVB star and Ballon d’Or winner Matthias Sammer, who was Dortmund’s youth academy director at the time.
But just when he appeared set to string together successes, the 2011/12 season gave Götze and Dortmund fans a bitter taste of what was to come.
Although the team secured back-to-back title triumphs, Götze spent much of the time watching from the sidelines. A pelvis injury meant he made just 18 league appearances that season, and only three after the midway point.
Götze’s problems did help Lewandowski emerge as a serious talent that campaign, and they teamed up to good effect in the 2012/13 season. Götze tallied a career-high 22 goal involvements, including 10 goals, but Bayern raced off with the title that had been Dortmund’s for two years.
They would soon do the same with Götze – and a year after that with Lewandowski – with the pull of the club he supported as a boy proving too strong. “Mario was a big Bayern Munich fan from the beginning,” said Droese. “He brought that with him from the south.”
Götze also had another motivation: “I would like to experience playing for [Pep] Guardiola. That doesn’t mean that I’m troubled by something in Dortmund. But I know full well that it’s a chance that might not come around again, and it’s one that I would like to take.”
Watch: Götze was hard to stop in his first spell at BVB
His move provoked the ire of the Dortmund fans, who were desperately unhappy to find out the heart of a player they thought of as one of their own in fact belonged to someone else. That was also in Götze’s mind three years later when – having added three successive Bundesliga winner’s medals, two DFB Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA World Cup to his collection – he returned to the Signal Iduna Park.
The outrageous medal haul he brought with him from his spell in Bavaria did not blind observers to the fact his time at the Allianz Arena was not all rosy. Along the way he got that unforgettable goal for Germany against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final, but in his last season with Bayern – 2015/16 – he played just 14 league games under Guardiola due to an unhappy combination of form and injury. But don’t tell the man himself it was a failure.
“My time at Bayern was absolutely not a mistake, because the experience I gathered there, the successes I celebrated there, with the World Cup, the cup wins etc… everything was as I wanted it,” insisted Götze. “It was a positive time.”
He, and Dortmund, hoped his comeback would also prove fruitful for both. But under a succession of coaches – Thomas Tuchel, Peter Bosz, Peter Stöger and Lucien Favre – he never scaled the heights he had as an insouciant teenager under Klopp.
Why not? “Many people still associate me with the 19-year-old player I was in my first spell here,” he explained. “But this time I had a different position, a different role.” He was even used by Tuchel as a defensive midfielder. “I think Thomas Tuchel is trying to get me to a high level – a new level,” said Götze. The experiment was not long-lasting, however, as the player’s body rebelled.
The reason for a succession of injuries that had stymied his development for a number of seasons and the cause of the mediocre form that did not do justice to his natural talent was eventually pinpointed in February 2017: a metabolic disorder.
“It’s a real blow,” said Lothar Matthäus, Germany’s 1990 FIFA World Cup-winning captain. “It’s good that the causes are now known and can be treated. In this context, you have to evaluate his performances differently.”
“I’m in treatment now, and I’m doing everything to get back into training as quickly as possible and help my team achieve our common goals,” wrote Götze. His optimism wasn’t reflected by reality, however, and his second spell at Dortmund was summed up with 13 goals in just 75 league appearances spread across four underwhelming and frustrating seasons.
“Everyone knows what Götze can do,” said Favre during the 2019/20 season, Götze’s last with the 1997 European champions. “It’s tough for me and it’s tough for him.”
Götze did play in Dortmund’s successful DFB Cup campaign in 2016/17, but only in the second round when he scored in a penalty shootout win over Union Berlin. He later made just five league starts in that final year at the club in 2019/20.
“It’s quite normal that he wants to play and play and play. Then I think we’ll see the old Mario Götze again,” said Klopp of his former protégé’s predicament. “With the quality that Dortmund have going forward right now, that’s clearly not possible. It makes total sense Mario leaves the club.”
To Götze – who scored 45 goals in 219 games across his two spells with Dortmund – it made sense too. “I’m a guy who trusts his feelings and comes to my own decisions,” he said after announcing he would be joining Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven with his Dortmund contract expiring in summer 2020. “I feel ready for a new challenge and I’m sure that it’ll be a nice change for me.”
Watch: Götze scored for Eintracht in a win over Union
So it proved, rejuvenating Götze over two seasons in Dutch football, where the highlight was playing in a cup final victory over Ajax in April 2022. The 30-year-old’s form in the Netherlands – where he got 18 goals and as many assists in 77 games – opened the door to a return to Germany with Frankfurt in summer 2022.
Now everyone – probably even Dortmund fans – will be hoping to see the ‘Super Mario’ who wowed the league during his teen years wearing the iconic black-and-yellow shirt.
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