Rarely has such a feat been made to look so simple. When Mario Gotze took down Andre Schurrle’s pass on his chest, there was no sense of the potentially pivotal nature of the moment which could win Germany the World Cup. There was nonchalance in the manner with which he controlled and swept past the excellent Sergio Romero, from an unpromising angle.
Not only was the 22-year-old’s sweet strike the first by a substitute to decide a World Cup final, but it was the point when he finally silenced any dissent as regards to just how special he is. Not unlike the vanquished Lionel Messi, Gotze is truly a player apart from most in the game.
It has always been so, ever since he made his first-team debut for Borussia Dortmund in late 2009 as a 17-year-old. If Sunday night’s contribution in Rio de Janeiro had the feel of a career-defining moment, Gotze had already created a clutch of them while he was still a teenager at the club who nurtured him from boyhood.
Many will remember his role in the February 2011 win at the Allianz Arena, Dortmund’s first away at Bayern Munich in 20 years. “Sebastian Kehl was 11, and the rest of the boys were still being breast-fed,” remarked Jurgen Klopp at the time (as per The Guardian). Gotze hadn’t even been born. He created two goals in BVB’s 3-1 win that evening.
That sticks in the memory because of its importance to Dortmund’s re-ascent to the summit of the German game. Perhaps a more pertinent memory of Gotze’s growing individual importance came some five weeks later, when his astonishing solo goal got Dortmund back on track in a home game against Hannover, when their fans feared they might be frittering the title away.
The notable aspect of that particular goal is that from a tender age, Gotze has had the confidence in himself to take responsibility in the most testing and stressful of situations. It was this inner belief that allowed him to take the plunge and make the decision to join Bayern in April 2013.
Left out by Joachim Low for the quarter-final with France as the coach changed tack, bringing in Miroslav Klose, some claimed that Gotze was the victim of this choice, reaching for the stars too soon. In reality, he enjoyed a good first season at Bayern, scoring 10 goals and setting up eight more in 20 Bundesliga starts, despite arriving in Munich with an injury (stats via WhoScored).
Gotze’s reaction, both to the opprobrium in some quarters over the move and to his World Cup exclusion, showed his calm and sense of perspective. So did his actions after the whistle at the Maracana.
Even in his moment of ecstasy, he spared a thought for his good friend Marco Reus, his former Dortmund teammate who missed out completely after suffering a serious ankle injury in the final pre-tournament friendly against Armenia. The matchwinner paraded a team shirt emblazoned with Reus’ name around the pitch.
Fate is a strange thing. Conversely, if Reus hadn’t been injured, Gotze might never have had the chance to make the impact that he eventually did. Even though they showed they could work together to devastating effect in their one season together at the Signal Iduna Park, it is not difficult to imagine Low deciding there would be room for only one of the pair in his XI.
Nobody would be more aware of this than Gotze. As the dust settled on the final, he posed for a picture with Messi, later published on his Instagram account. His hashtag indicated that he acknowledged the master’s influence on him, just as he had in the same manner when posing for a photo with Bayern legend Ze Roberto earlier in the tournament.
Gotze is at the service of the collective, yet has the instinct and talent to take centre stage when the time is right. This will take him closer to Messi’s mantle than many would imagine.