Five years after his World Cup winner, Mario Götze faces another battle to reestablish himself. New faces at Borussia Dortmund mean a scrap for selection and with his contract expiring, Götze admits he may look abroad.
For a man with five Bundesliga titles, a World Cup winner's medal and a host of other individual and team honors, Mario Götze seems surprisingly often like a player with something to prove.
That this is the case for a 27-year-old entering his 10th professional season is a nod to a talent that burned so brightly so young but is yet to burst into a sustained flame.
After a tough few years with illness, injury and a difficult move to Bayern Munich, last season felt like a step forward for the silky, perceptive playmaker. After a stuttering first half to the season on a personal level, Götze became a regular under Lucien Favre at the beginning of February, just as the team's sensational start was beginning to lose momentum.
Dropped for key clash despite run of form
A return of five goals and five assists in the 12 games between February 9 and May 11 made Götze one of BVB's key men in the run in. He stood his ground when others faltered, even wearing the captain's armband on occasion. But his omission from the starting lineup for the title-defining clash with Bayern Munich on April 4, the only such absence in that period, suggested Favre was perhaps not entirely convinced.
The offseason arrivals of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard could well be read as further evidence of that, with Brandt's excellence in a more central role at Bayer Leverkusen last season particularly troubling for Götze. Or so it would seem.
"I have one more year contract and I am totally relaxed in every way," he told the mass-circulation newspaper Bild on the weekend.
In fact, the 63-cap international sees a potential opportunity to expland his horizons.
"It’s logical that foreign countries play a role," he said of his future. "As a footballer you have the privilege of being able to work in almost every country in the world."
Future further forward
While the arrival of the two attacking midfielders may reduce Götze's playing time in his natural role, his displays as a false nine made up a sizable chunk of his gametime last year. And with no natural backup to Paco Alcacer, often more effective from the bench, that role looks Götze's best bet. With a similar lack of strikers in the national team setup, it could be his best chance of catching Joachim Löw's eye again too. On that front, there's good news.
"Honestly, I do not understand the whole discussion," said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke when asked about buying a backup striker for the 2019-20 campaign. "The forwards debate is one that is mainly led by the media, not by us."
One move that has pleased both Dortmund's top brass and Götze is the return of Mats Hummels, who followed Götze in moving back to Signal Iduna Park after a spell with Bayern Munich.
"He brings the experience and quality we need," the playmaker said of the central defender.
Two of the mainstays of Jürgen Klopp's great Dortmund side taking to the pitch together in yellow and black shirts once again is bound to provoke some nostalgia, but both men seem keen to look forward rather than over their shoulder at the past.
As he starts another season with a crossroads looming in to view, the answer to the question of where Götze's longer-term future lies depends not just on his performances but on his desire for change.