With each passing week, Mario Gotze's career at Bayern Munich looks to be headed toward its end.
The 23-year-old returned to team training on February 2 following a lengthy injury absence but has since made just one appearance: 54 minutes against Werder Bremen earlier in March. Even when his side struggled against Cologne on Saturday, a match in which many starters were fatigued because of their having played a 120-minute marathon against Juventus three days prior, there was no room for Gotze in the starting lineup or even off the bench.
Questioned by reporters about his decision not to play Gotze against Cologne, Pep Guardiola simply said, per ESPN FC: "It was my decision and it was the best solution for Bayern Munich."
The press hasn't exactly been willing to accept that response at face vale. A headline in German tabloid Bild on Gotze's continued absence read: "Humiliated by Pep; forgotten by the bosses."
Sporting director Matthias Sammer had previously defended Guardiola's decision not to play Gotze by saying, per ESPN FC, the 23-year-old "[lacked] rhythm" despite the fact he "[had] trained well."
That may have been true, but no player ever has rhythm until they have it. One needs to play to develop rhythm, and the fact Gotze hasn't been used even as a substitute in games already won has led to understandable skepticism from the press.
It's one of football's great mysteries why Gotze isn't playing at least as an occasional substitute. Work ethic can't be the issue; last summer, he took the initiative to do extra training sessions, per Bild (h/t ESPN FC). And according to Bild, on Sunday he again put in an extra shift to improve his sprinting.
Applicability in this Bayern team also can't be the issue, as he excelled with Robert Lewandowski during their days at Borussia Dortmund. The playmaker had also been in brilliant form prior to his injury.
Although Gotze himself said in January that he'd decide his future at Bayern after speaking with incoming coach Carlo Ancelotti, per SportBild (h/t Goal), there is reason to believe he'll leave even if the former Real Madrid coach is keen on him.
The player has been heavily linked to Liverpool in the British press, with the BBC's Ben Smith perhaps the most credible among the chorus of voices claiming a reunion with Jurgen Klopp could be in the cards. And Bild reported on Wednesday that Dortmund have held discussions with Bayern regarding a possible return to Signal Iduna Park.
There are so many negative associations that a "fresh start" may only be possible at a new club, not just with a new coach. Yet all this could turn around if Gotze begins to play again and builds form before season's end.
It's hard for a player to impress without featuring, but fortunately for Gotze, he now has a chance to prove to Guardiola he deserves more playing time. The 23-year-old has been called up for international duty and is probably still the first-choice striker for Joachim Low's Germany team. With the Bundestrainer not particularly keen on Mario Gomez's fit into his tactical model and with Max Kruse having been dropped from the squad, there just aren't many alternatives.
Thus, Gotze has two chances in the coming days to make an impression: against England on Saturday and against Italy on Tuesday. Friendlies are often written off as "meaningless," but in this case, they may be Gotze's only chances to impress Guardiola, to earn more playing time with Bayern and save his career at the German record champions.