They say that wise men rectify and fools persist in error. Well, in this case, I’m willing to take the hit and admit it: I was wrong about Mario Götze. When he was announced as Bayern’s new signing for the 2013/2014 season, not only was I stunned at the timing of this announcement but I also thought that Pep wanted him to be the ‘Messi’ of his Bayern (i.e. the false 9) and that he would fail spectacularly. The 37m€ fee didn’t do much to dispel my doubts either.
And yet, here we are, 24 matches into the Bundesliga season and I couldn’t have been further from the mark. Götze has not only not failed but also contributed highly to Bayern’s style of play and success. Now, I’m not saying he’s been Bayern’s best player, because he hasn’t, but he has fitted in very well, does what is expected of him and has also contributed with 10 goals and 9 assists so far, which is not bad at all for a player coming in from a completely different tactical system into the best team in the world.
From what I saw last season, Bayern were, above all, a team that worked hard and that were physically stronger than all their opponents. Even though Guardiola’s style was going to be different, the former Barcelona manager does not like lazy players and while Götze isn’t exactly Juan Román Riquelme in terms of laziness, I didn’t expect this kid who only jogs when he doesn’t have the ball, tries to look like Justin Bieber and wears the newest and shiniest boots to fit into Bayern’s scheme. Wrong again.
It didn’t look rosy from the start for Götze, though, as his comeback from an injury sustained in the previous season was brief, injuring his ankle against Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup after a heavy challenge by Ramires. Injury prone, yet another factor that contributed to my judgement of how Götze was going to fare at Bayern. His adaptation period was an obstacle he couldn’t avoid. His Bundesliga debut for Bayern against Nürnberg was unspectacular to say the last and his early substitutions in the first two games coupled with being dropped to the bench in the match after that must have cast some doubts over how Götze would do, even in the minds of the most optimistic fans.
However, his two assists against Mainz and goal against Hertha showed that the dip in form was only a mirage and after another goal, this time against his former club in the 3-0 thumping, ignited Götze, going on to perform admirably in almost all the Bundesliga matches he’s played in as well as in the Champions League, in which he has also contributed with goals and assists.
I also had my doubts about how he would blend in with Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller, particularly with the first two, not because of positional clash but due to the fact that all three of them like to hang onto the ball and be the go-to-guy in Bayern’s attacks, especially having seen the fireworks that have emerged between them both. Well, the answer is that the transition has been smooth, with Götze feeding assists to Robben and Müller in particular, which exposes his preference to look towards the right-hand side.
Götze has also played in a wide range of positions, from out wide on the left to central midfielder and even in the hole behind the striker… oh, and as false nine as well (I was right about something). Guardiola has used him the most in central midfield in the 4-1-4-1 formation but, funnily enough, he has been most effective when coming off the bench, scoring 3 goals and 4 assists in 7 substitute appearances. However, he still shines the most when playing in the hole behind the striker, but Guardiola has hesitated to play him there due to the tactics he uses and the rarity of the 4-2-3-1 formation being employed. Nevertheless, when playing as the lone man up front, Götze has shown that he can be just as capable as in any other attacking position, stating that he’ll “play anywhere the manager tells me to”.
For a player who was used to playing in the same position most of the time, Götze has shown incredible versatility and adaptability skills and a level of maturity that has probably surprised even the most optimistic of fans. That was the biggest concern I had when the signing was announced: how would Götze adapt to a new manager, a new team, a new tactical system but, most of all, to a new team in which he didn’t stand out above the rest, all of this with the heavy burden of a huge transfer fee from a direct rival. Götze has answered mine and all of his critics with performances on the pitch and yet one cannot help but feel that there is much more to come from him, as his performances are consistently getting better and better.
One prospect Bayern fans can look forward to is the inclusion of Robert Lewandowski and Götze re-uniting with his old teammate, a partnership which has the potential to produce plenty of goals and which could considerably reduce Lewandowski’s adaptation period. Perhaps those of us who thought that Götze would fail wanted him to fail, not because it was anything personal but because we are not fans of Bayern’s dominance and we yearn for a more balanced and contested league. If anything, Götze has come out of this with flying colours, showing that he’s not the immature Justin Bieber wannabe us skeptics thought he was.