Football Features

Mario Gotze shedding burden of “2014 backpack” at PSV as Low drops Germany recall hit

By Ben Green

Mario Gotze: PSV resurgence helping midfielder shed "2014 backpack"

Published: 16:27, 13 November 2020

Mario Gotze had the world at his feet in 2014 after firing Germany to a fourth World Cup, but in the proceeding six years haven’t quite live up to that momentous billing.

“Prove that you are better than Lionel Messi. You can decide the match today,” Germany manager Joachim Low famously told Gotze just before extra-time got underway at the Maracana, and he duly upstaged the Argentine phenom by scoring the winner to embellish another gold star on Germany’s national crest.

At that point, Gotze was the most expensive German player of all-time having relocated from Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich a year prior to the Rio de Janeiro showpiece, and just a week before the Brazil tournament commenced, he had just turned 22.

It was safe to assume at that moment in time then that Gotze was the poster boy of Germany’s future, a generational talent who would only improve under the tutelage of Guardiola and one day make the transition from 2011 Golden Boy winner to eventual Ballon d’Or recipient.

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In October 2014, just three months after breaching Sergio Romero’s net, Gotze ranked 15th in that year’s Ballon d’Or rankings, but that is the closest the mercurial playmaker has ever come to clinching the esteemed silverware.

He was placed upon a pedestal post-World Cup and had, what Low has since described as a “backpack” of pressure weighing heavily down on his shoulders. As such, the proceeding years have seen Gotze move from Pep’s protege to Dortmund outcast, and eventual free agent in the summer at just 28.

Gotze fell victim to Guardiola’s preferred 4-3-3 system at Bayern (and the glut of talent at his disposal), with no discernible room for a traditional No. 10, while a combination of injury and fitness issues — notably the muscle disorder myopathy — saw the midfielder return to Dortmund in 2016 and eventually fall down the pecking order, which culminated in his release in May.

A host of top clubs were rumoured to be in the queue for Gotze’s signature, including AC Milan, Roma, Sevilla and West Ham, but no-one in Europe’s top five leagues seemed willing to take the risk, and instead the German signed a two-year contract with PSV in the Netherlands, hoping to resurrect his career.

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It’s early days, of course, but Gotze has certainly set out his stall to rediscover that once world-class form in Eindhoven and has been an early success story for the Farmers, both in the Eredivisie and the Europa League.

So far, Gotze has two goals in three Eredivisie games, in which PSV have won by three goals or more without conceding, while he has also netted once in three Group E games in the Europa League.

Such form has seen Roger Schmidt’s side move to third in the Dutch top flight, while more encouragingly, Low has refused to shut the door on a potential return to the Germany fold for Gotze, three years after he last donned the colours of Die Mannschaft.

“We don’t lose sight of him, of course,” Low told Sportbuzzer.

“He looks very fresh and very agile, the joy can be seen in him. He needs that for his light-footedness, for his variability.”

Low went on to describe the struggles Gotze encountered following his success in the 2014 World Cup, believing that goal placed an unenviable weight of expectation on his shoulders.

He added: “Everything was always focused on him. He had a backpack on with the 2014 goal, which must have been a heavy burden.

“That’s why I’m happy for him that he has started so well in Eindhoven.”

The 63-capped Germany international’s PSV teammate Philipp Max was recently called up by Low for matches against Czech Republic, Ukraine and Spain in this month’s international fixtures. Gotze will now be hoping to have a similar impact at the Philips Stadion and earn a call-up himself to end his three-year exile from the national side.