Two years ago, Mario Goetze burst onto the radar as one of Germany’s top footballers. Even at 18 years of age, the Memmingen native had an abundance of skill and tactical know-how, and soon earned a starting spot in Juergen Klopp’s Dortmund lineup.
It was not long before Goetze received high praise from Germany’s bigwigs: Then-Germany sporting director Matthias Sammer labeled the young attacker as "one of the greatest talents we have ever had," a high honor in the land of Beckenbauer, Matthaeus and Mueller.
It was therefore no surprise when Goetze made his debut as a senior international in November of 2010, becoming the second-youngest player to represent Germany.
When Shinji Kagawa suffered a foot injury that effectively ruled him out of the second round of the 2010-11 Bundesliga season, Goetze was given a chance in his natural role as a central playmaker, and spearheaded Dortmund’s title run.
In the fall of 2011, Goetze’s profile continued to grow: He comprehensively outplayed Neymar and filled in brilliantly as Mesut Ozil’s replacement in a friendly against Brazil. He began the club season in scintillating form, showing an abundance of clever, classy moves in a September Champions League draw with Arsenal. Not long thereafter, however, Goetze’s development hit a brick wall.
Just as Dortmund were set to resume play following the winter break, Goetze was diagnosed with hip cartilage inflammation, an injury that all but ended his season. He was given just 132 minutes to play in a few Bundesliga appearances towards the end of the season, and was out of form at Euro 2012.
Fifteen months ago, Goetze was well on his way to earning a regular starting role for Germany. He was unquestionably Ozil’s backup, but Joachim Loew had tried to incorporate both in the same lineup, and given the Dortmund star’s talent, it was not entirely out of the realm of possibility that he might one day relegate Ozil to the bench.
Much has changed since then, however. Marco Reus has emerged as an irreplaceable starter on the left wing, and experiments with Ozil and Goetze as dual playmakers in a 4-1-4-1 formation have proven ineffective on the defensive end.
Thomas Mueller, meanwhile, is in favor with Loew, and his form for Bayern this season has only increased his stock. It would be exceedingly difficult for Goetze to break into Loew’s first XI even if in top form. And the young No. 10 is currently far from his sharpest.
While Goetze’s performances are not done justice by his modest goal and assist tallies, the playmaker is most certainly in Reus’ shadow. The 20-year-old’s best game of the season came against Manchester City, and even in that match he had no involvement in Dortmund’s goal: Goetze instead hit the woodwork twice, forcing Joe Hart to make four saves at full stretch. Reus was involved in fewer chances overall, but his shot beat Hart to put BVB ahead.
Once an irreplaceable player in Loew's Germany squad, Goetze now faces an abundance of competition in the form of Reus, Lukas Podolski, and Andre Schuerrle, all of whom have either equalled or exceeded his level since his injury.
Friendlies are the right platform for experimentation, and with Ozil suffering from muscular problems, Goetze will surely have time to show his class during Wednesday’s friendly with the Netherlands. He has all the technique and intelligence of yesteryear, and his body has developed to support his skill. The only thing that is missing now is a big performance to boost his confidence.