Mario Gotze seems relaxed.
He comes straight from the sauna after training, to Eintracht Frankfurtis a beautifully landscaped training ground. He sits in front of the dining table. Athleticism and leans back, looking like a man at peace.
You could forgive him for being more uptight. We meet two days before Hansi Flick announces his Germany team for the world Cup. (Unexpectedly, Gotze will receive a call-up to Qatar – having not played for his country since 2017.)
But Gotze is calm. It’s not that he doesn’t care, more that he seems pretty happy with his lot at the moment. He is playing brilliantly for Frankfurt, who qualified for the Champions League knockout phase, which begins in February. He has a young son. Years of fitness and health struggles seem to be behind him. Moreover, he has already achieved what everyone who plays international football wants to do.
Eight years have passed since that winning goal for Germany against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final. A lot of time has passed and a lot has happened to Gotze in the meantime to allow him to fully process it. You forget that he was only 22 then, probably too young to fully understand the magnitude of what he had done.
“It took me time to really understand and also to process everything,” he says. “Now I have some time to review and really understand what happened.
“It was interesting for me to understand football a bit better. In the end, it’s just those moments, those highlights, that are very important.
When you do something like this at such a young age, there must be a temptation to think: what now? What remains to be done? The thought must occur: “Things don’t get better than this – maybe I should quit at the top.” This is something Gotze clearly thought about.
“If I could rewrite (history) a bit, I would score the goal at 35 and then stop playing.”
He says it with a smile, but you can understand the sentiment.
Gotze was presented as a substitute in extra time during this final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro by Joachim Low: legend has it that he told him to “go out and prove that you are better than Messi”.
It feels like one of those apocryphal stories, a nice line and a story to tell that has little to do with reality.
But, as it turns out, it’s true.
“He didn’t know what else to say…it was just to motivate me at the time.”
It worked, Gotze fired a cross down the left side of Andre Schurrle’s area and hooked a shot into the corner past Sergio Romero. “It was just instinct because it all happened so fast. You can’t really make decisions. Then what I remember is you still had to play seven, eight, nine minutes.
“They had a free kick afterwards, I think in the 119th minute or something, and it was like, ‘OK if he scores now, it’s 1-1, then penalties…’. “
After the celebrations, with friends and family in Brazil and with the rest of Germany after returning home, reality returned.
“I only had 20 days off and then I started again with Bayern, then we played a cup game a week later. Four weeks ago you won the World Cup, and now you’re playing against a third division team in the cup. It was quite strange.
Gotze does not mention, perhaps out of modesty, that he also scored in that match – the first in a 4-1 win over Preussen Munster. From this point of view, there was no problem with his motivation after the glory in Rio.
However, over the next few years, other problems began to appear. Gotze would feel tired – not just tired, but tired, unable to perform at nearly the level he was used to. At first at least, he tried to push through, but he soon realized it wasn’t sustainable.
“Back then, if I was training, I was training after training, I was doing something before training or, if we had a day off, I wasn’t taking a day off. Or if I was on vacation for three weeks, I would start running after three days. This stuff I used to do when I was young – in the end, it was just stupid.
“Go further, do more, all the time, without resting or stopping. If you do this continuously for many years, my body reacts and says, “Enough is enough.”
It’s perfectly understandable that Gotze is trying to push through: after all, what footballer hasn’t played with an injury or tried to ignore an illness just to stay in the team?
But it turned out that Gotze was suffering from metabolic burnout due to hormonal imbalance: or, to put it another way, a form of chronic fatigue that simply wasn’t allowing him to perform at the level required to stay at the top of the game.
It’s not uncommon to see this in athletes who participate in endurance sports, such as triathlon, but they recognize it more easily because of the nature of their training, which is to prepare for big events rather than to footballers and other teams. – sports players face.
The condition was not as mysterious as suggested at the time, although it was exacerbated by a series of injuries, such as tearing his adductor muscle during his third season at Bayern.
Nor was it a threat to his career.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Gotze says. “I knew it could be managed. It’s not like a disease or a virus that you can’t get rid of. In the end, it was a logical process for me to realize that if I do it right, then in a few months everything will be fine.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) July 13, 2022
Gotze took medication for a few weeks, but his most notable method of battling the disease was staying away from the game for the better part of half a season, starting in late January 2016. It was a particularly difficult decision: it was his first season at Borussia Dortmundthe club he left to join Bayern in 2013, and in theory he had a new manager to impress, Thomas Tuchel.
“It was a very difficult decision,” he says. “Because I had to explain it to the club – normally if you have an injury you can say, ‘Listen, I have a break, a fracture no matter‘. I had to tell them, “Look for something you can’t really see or feel. But it is there.
“[Tuchel] was very open to it. He really understood. »
It was an emotionally smart decision, a recognition that he wasn’t indestructible and couldn’t carry on as before.
He returned the following season but, while he had some good spells, it was never quite the same. He left for a second time at the end of the pandemic-prolonged 2019-20 season and made a conscious decision to leave Germany, step away from the immediate spotlight and seek his groove in a place where his story was. ‘t follow it.
That place was Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where under Roger Schmidt at PSV he flourished and slowly rediscovered consistency and form. He hit double goals for the first time since 2014-15. He won the Dutch National Cup. His two years with PSV helped him blossom again. So when he had the chance to return to Germany this summer, he took it.
“It was very important for me, especially because I played 10 years in the Bundesliga, and then I had a moment when I could be somewhere else, where I don’t know everyone, the players. It was very important to have a different experience and it helped me in many ways – off the pitch, on the pitch. I just needed to play to find my rhythm.
Gotze also overhauled her entire fitness regimen. No more double sessions and constant work; came yoga, taekwondo and rest. He became more willing to listen to what his body was telling him. “I prioritize sleep, nutrition, all those other things that are very important, especially if you get older as an athlete.”
He has some advice for Mario’s past life: “When I look back now what would I say to my younger self now, it’s this thing I had when I was just trying to train, to do more every day, to work on myself – you have to work for sure, you have to have talent, but we must not forget that the weather also changes.
The perspective also helped. His son, Rome (the name was inspired by the character of Roman in the American television drama Succession – Gotze was horrified when he discovered Kevin De Bruyne also named his child Rome), was born a few years ago. “If you have children, everything changes. It doesn’t matter if you score or win or get injured, you have to wake up and feed them. You do not have the choice.
This perspective may help him deal with the talk of the national team. That, and an acknowledgment that if he retired tomorrow, he would still have a career to be proud of.
“I played eight years in the national team. I started when I was 18, until I was 26. I think I played 60, 65 games. So when I look back I have had a good time.
“I didn’t expect this to happen because ultimately, for me, my club is very important and I haven’t been in the national team for six years. So in the end, for me, the most important is what is happening here at the club, especially now with the Bundesliga, the Champions League and the cup.”
The fact that he even got into the conversation for the World Cup squad is extraordinary, considering what he’s been through.
Regardless of what happens in Qatar over the next month, Gotze has rebuilt his career, but perhaps more importantly, he looks happy, content with where he is now.
Gotze belongs to this somewhat odd group of players: not one of the very great – a Diego Maradona, or a Ronaldo (one or the other), or a Lionel Messi – but the one who has achieved the greatest thing Game.
Everyone dreams of scoring the winner of the World Cup final.
It’s tempting to compare him to men who walked on the moon and then returned to Earth and found it difficult to adjust to the realities of normal life.
It took Gotze a while, but now he’s back.
Who knows: maybe he will walk on the moon again.
(Top photo: Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images)