In the mixed zone at the Audi Cup, you could see a rather nervous 23-year-old who tried hard to say nothing wrong yet still kinda did. The media response to his reluctant statements regarding his future in Munich was huge. “We’ll see if he’s gonna talk with me more often”, replied a smiling Götze to the leading question if Guardiola would talk more with him in the future. A run-of-the-mill answer that could mean everything or nothing at all. The force of the media response demonstrates just how heated up the discussions are that surround the World Cup-winning goal scorer. The “Kicker” interpreted his statements as a cry for help and mentioned a broken relationship between coach and player, referring to Götze’s surroundings. It went almost completely unheard that Götze has since tried to publicly set the record straight.
Even the club seems annoyed by the never-ending discussions that were started in early July when Götze’s agent Volker Struth complained about the lack of support for his player. Only Struth himself knows why exactly he thought that this would improve the situation. Public complaints don’t go down well at any club and most certainly not at Bayern. It’s no surprise that the response of club chairman Rummenigge arrived immediately. It’s a conflict of interests: on one side the agent who wants to protect the brand of Mario Götze, on the other side the club who has invested a lot of money in the player Götze and thus expects him to deliver. Götze appears almost like a puppet in between – certainly also because he doesn’t allow any insight into his true inner life, despite the perfectly staged closeness on his social media accounts.
Sometimes you’d like to tell him to just focus on football and ignore all those other things, similarly to how the former poster boy Mehmet Scholl eventually did. That much is obvious: both the cause and the solution of his issues are located on the pitch, as corny as it might sound.
Effects of a weak second half
Götze didn’t lack playing time last season. He was in the starting lineup in almost 80% of competitive matches. That’s on the same level as Thomas Müller (82%). And he did play a more than solid first half of the season as a supporting attacker alongside Robben, Müller, Lewandowski and sometimes Ribery. The true problem was that, from February to May 2015, Götze showed only two good performances, at home against Frankfurt and Hamburg. In the second half of the season, he played more than 1100 minutes yet was directly involved in only four goals. That’s 0,3 scorer points per 90 minutes, a simply unacceptable number for an offensive player at Bayern. He was hardly noticeable in the Champions League matches against Donezk and Porto, despite being a part of the starting lineups. Following such performances, it was only right that he was benched in the semifinals against Barcelona and Dortmund.
The bottom line is that he played a solid first half and a really bad second half of the season. In a year following a World Cup with few opportunities to rest, there are some potential explanations. Add to this that, due to all those injuries, Götze often had to help out on the wing where he didn’t impress much, which is also caused by opponents focusing more on him when Robben and Ribery are out injured. Götze was marked by two or three defenders, like Robben and Ribery have been for years now. Mario Götze is good at dribbling in tight spaces, where he gets past defenders with a skillful turn. In the 2013-14 season, mostly playing in central positions, he reached 4,7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, a number on the same level as Robben and Ribery. In the following campaign, that number decreased by almost two successful dribbles per match. According to whoscored.com, he only won 2,6 out of 7 dribbles in his 12 Bundesliga appearances as a winger. In 16 matches in central positions, he won 3,4 out of 6,1 attempts. In 11 Champions League matches, his dribbling success shrank to a pathetic 0,6 out of 2,7 tries.
He is no fast-paced dribbler who starts running and forces his way past one or two opponents. The 14-15 season was a step backwards for Götze in several other statistical figures, as well. For example, his number of shots from inside the box decreased. It would be too easy too blame all of that on him being played out of position, others being injured and post-World Cup fatigue. Thomas Müller is even less of a fast-paced dribbler than Götze, yet he still managed to contribute positively in practically every single match after the winter break, despite opponents focusing more on him. That’s what Götze has to aspire to and failed to do especially in 2015.
So far, the 23-year-old has not managed to contribute on such a consistent basis that he would be as irreplaceable as Robben, Müller, Thiago or Lewandowski are. An underrated aspect surely is that Götze had to readjust his entire game. His strongest moments took place in the paradise of Dortmund’s transitional game from 2010 to 2013. In that system, he had lots of space against unorganized opponents who were taken apart by the fast and skilled Dortmund after forced turnovers. The system in Munich is an entirely different one. Götze needs to develop further if he wants to live up to the high expectations. The difficulty of that adjustment hasn’t only become obvious in Munich. Many forget that he was a second choice at the World Cup in Brazil and no longer a part of the starting lineup after an early substitution against Algeria. This got lost in all the hype around his goal in the final.
Götze sets the course himself
Competition has become even bigger for Götze with the signing of Douglas Costa. He is most likely gonna fight Lewandowski, Müller, Robben, Ribery and Costa for one of three true attacking spots in the lineup. A classic number 10 role usually doesn’t exist in Guardiola’s systems. The false nine or a free-roaming role are probably the most realistic options for playing time. Considering the second half of last season and an inconsistent preseason, it doesn’t seem like Götze is the first choice at this point. One possibility that Guardiola has not tried that often yet would be to field Götze as a second number 8 who’s strong with the ball. Here, he could be a more offensive-minded partner of Thiago in front of a protecting number 6 (Vidal) who supports the offense and adds further flexibility. Guardiola has used a 4-1-4-1 formation several times in preseason, making this option appear a bit more likely. In this system, four or five attacking players rotate horizontally and vertically. Götze could benefit from that freedom and enter the box from a central position, which is where he was more of a goal threat in the past. Finishing is one of Götze’s biggest strengths. What comes before that usually is an issue for him.
There are even more options. In the 2014 cup final, brought on in minute 31 due to Lahm’s injury, Mario Götze played a great match in a more defensive role alongside Toni Kroos. With Bayern being active in three competitions, there will be more than enough options and playing time for everyone anyway. The decisive question is who’s going to play in the big matches against Dortmund or late in the Champions League. That’s what Götze and his entourage care about the most, too.
Götze – this is where Rummenigge is right – has to make a decision. Is he willing to fight himself out of this difficult situation, using strong performances to force Guardiola to field him in important matches? Or would he prefer a new environment with a bigger appreciation for him and his style of play? It would be the path of Lukas Podolski who struggled to use his strengths to contribute to Bayern’s special style. Podolski too opted for a transfer at the age of 23. He left as a failure who was weighed and found wanting. Nevertheless, he has still enjoyed a good career. Similarly, Götze is facing several interesting opportunities beyond Bayern.
The key lies on the pitch
So much is obvious: a departure of Götze in this transfer window would leave behind multiple losers. Götze himself, who would have to deal with the stigma of having failed to make it in Munich. Guardiola, who would have failed to use and develop the huge talent that Götze offers. And lastly the club that couldn’t manage to integrate and turn him into a face of the franchise. The team however would easily recover from his departure, bringing us back to Götze’s predicament, even more so if another attacking talent was signed, such as Kingsley Coman whom Bayern have scouted and observed closely.
Götze should be well aware of the fact that it’s hardly a coincidence if players fail to prevail in Munich. Schweinsteiger managed to do it despite adversity. Kroos managed to do it with a little detour. Alaba managed to do it. Boateng managed to do it despite a difficult beginning, Gomez managed to do it in spite of the unfortunate ending. All of them had to face competition but quality prevails in Munich. That’s part of Bayern’s secret of success. Götze has to decide whether he thinks he’s capable of getting out of the current stalemate at Bayern. It’s the most complicated way that demands nothing but strong performances. That is the key. Sooner or later he will get his chance to shine. That’s when it matters.
It’s all decided on the pitch. That saying has never been more accurate than in Mario Götze’s current situation at Bayern.