In the end, they obeyed the pleas of Jurgen Klopp to the letter.
Mario Gotze was not booed by the more than 65,000 fans inside the Westfalenstadion (at least not in concert); his shirt was not burned by the hardcore support in the Sudtribune as he played one of his final matches for Borussia Dortmund.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s Champions League encounter with Real Madrid, Klopp had pleaded that bad feelings toward the club’s 20-year-old starlet, who will be joining Bayern Munich in the summertime, not spoil the occasion of an important match.
At the final whistle of a memorable 4-1 win it seems his word was heeded.
That’s not to say Gotze won’t come in for criticism, or that his family home won’t be spray-painted or his brother sent home from school after being harassed as a “traitor.” All of those things have already happened, but none of them seemed to have an effect on either the player or his soon-to-be former club on Tuesday night.
Gotze, like most of his teammates, played extremely well against Real Madrid. His cross from the left after eight minutes allowed Robert Lewandowski to open the scoring, and throughout the 90 minutes he combined, as he always has, with fellow attackers Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski.
The spectre of his move—which was decided some time ago but only became public this week—was not a distraction. With a three-goal lead on aggregate, Klopp can already start thinking about his plans for Wembley and the Champions League final, which will likely pit Dortmund against the very Bayern side Gotze will be joining.
And in making his preparations, he’ll no doubt be faced with the inevitable question: Should Gotze start that match?
Lothar Matthaus, the Bayern legend and World Cup winner with Germany, believes Gotze cannot be trusted and remarked in a recent interview with Sky that Dortmund fans were well within their rights to feel “betrayed.”
“The comments Mario Gotze made in the recent past [about wanting to stay at Dortmund] don’t make him credible,” he said. “This damages the whole of football...This whole thing has certainly been developing for a while.” (Guardian)
That might be true, but Klopp remains convinced that at no time did Gotze make his decision to spite his current club.
“He is the player Pep Guardiola really wanted,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “He didn’t want to pass up on the chance to work together with this extraordinary coach.” (Guardian)
Matthias Sammer, a former Dortmund player and now the sporting director at Bayern, backed up Klopp’s view of the situation when he told Sky that Gotze had spurned some “incredible” offers to work with Guardiola.
“You have to be aware that Mario Gotze has had incredible offers from other clubs,” he said. “Those offers were really mad.”
But even if his motives were as pure as they could have been, is Gotze opening himself up to a conflict of interest by playing a potential Champions League final against his future employers? And is Klopp putting him in an untenable position by handing him the start?
Ideally, the answer to both questions is “no.”
Gotze, after all, is a professional footballer, and the club presently paying his wages is Borussia Dortmund. He owes them a performance by the terms of his contract, even if that contract will come to an end in June. He has also been with the club since he was eight years old, so surely there will be a sense of loyalty there, especially given the magnitude of the occasion.
As for his future team, he still doesn’t know any of the Bayern players as teammates. The only relationship he has with any of them involves the German national setup, so there will be no mixed loyalties should he take the field against them at Wembley. At club level he has only ever known the Bayern players as opponents.
That said, if this matter continues to grow as a distraction over the coming month it would hardly be surprising if Klopp omitted Gotze from his starting XI in the Champions League final. There’s a point where the circus of it all disrupts everyone at Dortmund, and if Klopp feels his preparations are being hindered by it he may reveal his plans to Gotze, and the entire squad, well in advance.
In any event, it’s hardly a comfortable position for Klopp to be in. And while many managers would love the option of including a player of Gotze’s quality in their matchday squads, of this conundrum nobody is jealous.