Uli Hoeness’ regret list is certainly growing. His well-documented tax “mishap” has stolen the headlines of late but one further back in the memory bank is his criticism of Mario Gomez after last year’s heart-wrenching, Champions League defeat in their home stadium. Gomez was hailed as “a good striker, but not a very good one,” despite having just scored 40 goals. Understandably, no one really remembers the image of Gomez holding the Henkelpott in Wembley this year, but what of the man who seems destined to join the list of departing players?
First it was Mario Mandzukic who ousted him. Now, in the season to come, it seems Robert Lewandowski will bump Mario Gomez not only out of contention but also out of Munich. The 27-year-old striker has been left behind by progressive football. After last year’s comments from Hoeness, where he is rumoured to have effectively labelled Gomez the reason for losing that final at home, he should have been protected and nurtured. Instead, he was replaced by the more effective and defensive-minded spearhead Mandzukic. It is of course ironic that he, in turn, will be replaced by the more old-fashioned style of Lewandowski.
Since arriving at Bayern Munich, Gomez has had his previous aggressive, fluidity reduced. It takes a great deal to be an adaptable striker at Bayern and soon, Gomez fell into the trap of being nothing more than a clinical goalscorer. So would most when the service is as good as it is in Munich. Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with that. There are plenty of systems in the modern game that not only accommodate that kind of striker, but are in fact built around them. For this reason, along with a few others, Gomez should be sought after.
What Gomez has lost is his ability to drop deep, drift wide and pester defences. At Bayern he became incredibly good at finishing and, seemingly sensibly, that was harnessed by the club as Gomez made the six yard box his own. In 2010/11 he managed a total of 39 goals for Bayern with only four assists in 45 appearances. The following year he accumulated 40, with six assists in 50 games. In other words, so long as he was well positioned, there were (and arguably still are) very few better at performing rule 101 of the striking role: scoring.
Something else worth noting from those statistics is the number of games he played. His 31 appearances this year made for a lowly total of 1,162 minutes on the pitch, over a 1,000 less than each of the previous two seasons. Despite this, Gomez notched 17 goals and four assists. There were fleeting moments where he looked desperate to prove he could change, adapt and be more like his Croatian teammate. In the end though, as was best highlighted by his phenomenal cameo appearance against VfL Wolfsburg in the domestic cup semi-final where he managed a 14-minute hat-trick, Gomez returned to his strengths.
Playing at Stuttgart, Gomez was part of the sensational team that stormed to an unexpected title in the 2006/7 season and was named German footballer of the year because of his efforts (14 goals, 7 assists in the league). Along with now well-known Sami Khedira, the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger, Markus Babbel and manager Armin Veh, Gomez led Stuttgart to an improbable championship. His goals were clearly of value but back then he was what many journalists justifiably claimed as a new form of striker. He was fluid and although that reduced his goal tally, it made him a more complete striker.
Gomez’s probable departure in the summer can be seen as both an opportunity to remind him he still has the skill set of years passed, as well as how valuable he still is as a goalscorer. His technical skill set has often been questioned, particularly his first touch, but that shouldn’t put suitors off. Even with sound guidance, it is unlikely that he will return to the free-flowing striker he was in Stuttgart but there can be no doubt his finishing attributes and his strength make him a desirable player.
A move abroad would be fantastic for him, particularly somewhere like Tottenham where the likes of Steffen Freund (and less so Lewis Holtby) can only have a positive effect on him. Mario’s recent media silence suggests he is pondering whether to leave the comforts of Munich. Wherever he does end up, he should be valued for far more than he currently is. Gomez is the definition of the “20-goal-a-season striker,” and those will always be in demand. Let’s not forget that hair either…
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