Few players have risen through the ranks quite as precipitously as Mario Götze. In fact, you have to go back to 1954 to find a player who made it to the German national team at a younger age since the war. And that precocious lad, Uwe Seeler, became one of Germany's greatest ever.
Seeler took the field against France at the age of 17 years and 345 days, while Götze was 187 days older when he appeared as a substitute to face the Swedes last November. Since then, the attacking midfielder has played in six games for Germany, and has been a key element in coach Jogi Löw's re-generation plans following last year's World Cup in South Africa.
"One of our biggest talents ever"
The young man began attracting attention so long ago it's odd to remember that he played no part in the World Cup, when Löw famously took one of the tournament's youngest and most dynamic sides to the semi-final.
But the Götze hype began well before the Sweden game last November, arguably even before he won a regular place in the Dortmund side. Jürgen Klopp used him only sporadically in the 2009/2010 season, (he played only five games, and made the ninth youngest Bundesliga debut ever), and he became an integral part of the side only last year.
It was then, on the cusp of that breakout season, that the hype began - probably in mid-August, when Matthias Sammer, sporting director of the German Football Association (DFB), told kicker magazine that Götze was "one of the biggest talents that we've ever had." And he was talking about Germany, not the Ruhr club where he won a European Cup.
From then on, Dortmund's attempts to protect the young man by dampening expectations (Klopp banned him from giving interviews) were all for nought. Löw's opinion was quickly sought out: "Mario Götze is one of the biggest German talents," he said, not exactly going for the originality prize.
The German Messi
After that it was only a matter of time before the epithets about "the German Messi" began making the media rounds. Obviously it's far too early - not to mention vastly unfair on Götze - to make that judgement, but it's hard not to notice the similarities.
Sammer said of Götze, "He's an exceptional player - very fast, enormously creative and has outstanding technical abilities." It's a description that suits Messi well.
They're both small (under 1.8 meters), and incredibly precocious (Messi was nominated for FIFA's World Player of the Year before the age of 21). Both players like to play freely between the midfield and attack, have very elegant ball control, are great, balanced dribblers, can use both feet, and can play in various positions in the attacking half.
The comparison is not complete, of course. One area where Götze clearly lags behind is goal-scoring prowess: Götze only scored eight times last season, in comparison to Messi's absurd 47 for Barcelona. And there seems to be a reason for that: while the Argentinean usually ends his devastating dribbles by slotting it home himself, Götze is noticeably less selfish - and is more likely head for the byline to square it back for the likes of Lucas Barrios to finish off.
The right place at the right time
But it's probably important to remember that Götze's rise is dependent on two vital circumstances. The modern game, which has been defined by Barcelona, is ideally suited to someone with Götze's skill-set. Dortmund is the Bundesliga team that best emulates the quick-passing style of the Catalan team. In many ways, Messi's ascendency has paved the way for the footballing world to appreciate emerging players like Götze.
Secondly, Götze has been helped enormously by Germany's comprehensive youth system and the faith that engenders in the game's highest echelons. Jogi Löw once said of his debutant policy, "My motto is: the earlier the better," and Germany's ever younger appearance shows that he means it.
Klopp clearly has a similar philosophy. Now it's up to Götze to repay their faith.
Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Matt Hermann