He was Germany's golden boy. He was supposed to become his country's first hope for a Ballon d'Or winner since Sebastian Deisler. He had shown up Neymar head-to-head and led Borussia Dortmund to an improbable UEFA Champions League final at the age of 20. And he had signed with Bayern Munich, with many hoping he would become Pep Guardiola's next protege, following in the footsteps of Lionel Messi.
Yet things have turned out very differently for Mario Gotze.
Two-and-a-half years after his signing for Bayern Munich, Gotze's career is at a crossroads. He hasn't turned out to be the player he was meant to be, and the €37 million the Bavarians paid to sign him looks to be a decent bit of business based on his performance at the Allianz Arena, if discounting the quality he had shown prior to his move.
Rather than emerging as a key player in what has seemed to be an impending changing of the guard at Bayern, Gotze has seen his minutes, as well as his performance, sharply decline.
Meanwhile, Douglas Costa has emerged as Franck Ribery's heir-apparent, while Kingsley Coman appears to have solidified his spot as Arjen Robben's replacement when the Dutchman either leaves or enters his natural, age-induced decline.
It's not as though Gotze hasn't had his chances. Per Transfermarkt, he played 2791 minutes in 2013-14. And in fairness, he scored 15 goals and gave 13 assists: a very respectable return of slightly less than one goal directly contributed to per 90-minute game.
But he wasn't any better the next season: Given more (3344) minutes, he scored 15 and set up seven. And in the first half of the current campaign, albeit one in which he's been injured since mid-October, he's played just 615 minutes.
Statistics say little of Gotze's situation, however, and can be quite misleading. The player has been very streaky, playing well for a few weeks before entering long spells in which he's provided precious little.
In fairness to him, he's been used as a utility attacker, a replacement left- or right-winger or center forward, but rarely in his favored central role behind a main center forward.
Considering this fact, it's understandable how Gotze has lost confidence. Some players are acutely sensitive to their standing in the eyes of a manager, and a player without a clear, defined role in a team can hardly feel trusted by his coach. The fact that he has had to adapt to different roles and different positions every few weeks hasn't helped, either.
It's a weakness of Gotze that he needs to be needed.
Coman, for example, hasn't had any trouble adjusting to different roles and has actually taken like a fish to water since his signing over the summer. Most players don't. And some players are fortunate enough to have an open spot in a team they can fill; Thomas Muller, for example, filled a much-needed void for Bayern and was trusted to start every game in his first season as a professional.
Gotze just hasn't had the same level of trust that Muller had from then-coach Louis van Gaal, and the ex-BVB man's agent was highly critical of Guardiola last summer.
Speaking to Bild (h/t Goal's SW Lim), Volker Struth said: "Guardiola has destroyed Gotze. He feels like the coach doesn't have faith in him and yet still he is asked to be decisive when he gets on the pitch. I'm surprised that Guardiola didn't use Gotze in important matches like the German Cup and Champions League semi-finals. He only plays in the easy games."
It could have simply been an attempt to save face and angle for a transfer, but being fair to Gotze, he's shown even during his time at Bayern that when he has his coach's confidence, he can deliver brilliantly.
Via the Guardian, Germany coach Joachim Low told Gotze before his introduction to the World Cup final: "OK, show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup." Minutes later, Gotze scored the winner.
Since then, Gotze has generally played rather well for Germany, even if out of position as a center forward. For Bayern, not so much.
There may be a lifeline for Gotze in his Bayern career in that Guardiola is set to leave at season's end, with one year left on the player's contract at the Allianz Arena. Maybe Carlo Ancelotti will trust him more, build the Bayern attack around him and help him reach the level he was supposed to.
The talent is undeniably there, and Gotze could yet become one of the world's very best players. He just needs confidence, or he could be out the door when or even before his contract expires. And that's why Gotze will be the man to watch at Bayern in 2016.