Gotze talks World Cup, Bayern's season, Pep Guardiola: Exclusive
Mario Gotze, still just 22 years old, has at times looked like a young player weighed down by the expectations that came with a 37 million-euro price tag in his first season at Bayern Munich. But he's finally beginning to look like the wonderkid Pep Guardiola was promised by the Bavarian club -- the Catalan had pushed for Neymar, originally -- in the current campaign.
Maybe that's what winning the World Cup for your country with a glorious extra-time goal can do for you. He talked exclusively to ESPN FC about Bayern's chances in the Champions League, the lessons of last season and Guardiola's coaching technique.
ESPN FC: Mario, your strike against Argentina in the World Cup final has just been voted goal of the year in Germany. A good choice, in your opinion?
Mario Gotze: Definitely one of the nicer goals, yes. I think that's fair [laughs].
Will that goal follow you around for the rest of your life?
Gotze: It looks that way. When people walk up to me, they mostly want to talk about that goal. I've got a feeling that will continue for a little while little longer ...
Do you still get up with a smile on your face in the morning thinking about that moment in Rio?
Gotze: I get that warm glow, but only when people bring it up. Because we're back in the regular season, where there are new targets and everything happens so quickly with a game every three or four days, I tend to focus on the present rather than to dwell on the past. I like that about football: things are moving on all the time, at breakneck pace.
But isn't it a shame you can't truly enjoy your success because you're forced to look forward again immediately?
Gotze: There was a moment, after three weeks on holiday. I had been back on the pitch for a week and was standing next to Thomas Muller, and we looked at each other and thought, "Here we are again, playing in the Super Cup again." You just don't have any time to find a bit of distance, some perspective on what has happened. But that's the job. There is enough time to reminisce after your career.
Has the World Cup changed your life?
Gotze: In some sense, yes. In terms of the attention, the recognition you get by the public. It is the biggest sporting event in the world. To play there, to actually get to the final, to actually score, to actually win it. It's a unique experience.
Do you feel as if winning the trophy has taken you to the next level as a player? You were more clinical, more efficient in front of goal in the first half of [this Bundesliga] season.
Gotze: A goal like that gives you a sense of satisfaction, of course. Winning the trophy as well. These are positive experiences that you take with you, but for me, what's relevant is being fit, being able to play, being healthy. If I can be all these things, the rest -- the goals, the efficiency -- will come by themselves. Fitness and health are the foundation of everything.
Did you change your playing style this season?
Gotze: I wouldn't say I've changed, but I am in better shape. That's the main thing in sport: you have to feel good. I don't believe I've changed my game much. Maybe I'm trying to score a bit more, to go one vs. one ... but perhaps you can see these things better as an observer. It's not really a conscious thing.
It can't be a coincidence that you've already scored seven goals in the Bundesliga. It also feels as if you've become more established in the team.
Gotze: Sure. There were no injuries this year, and it's always easier in your second season, when you know the club, know how things work, you know the people. But I think it's mostly down to my fitness. I'm not injured, I can play. That's the main thing.
You were the target of quite a bit of criticism in your first year at Bayern. Did you think it was warranted? How did you deal with that?
Gotze: It certainly wasn't easy. When I arrived, Bayern had just won the treble. I was injured, then played two games, then got injured again. The first three or four months, I still lived in a hotel. All these things, in combination with moving from Dortmund to Bayern, made it all very difficult. But I think I dealt with it reasonably well. Criticism goes with the territory. I can distinguish between the things you take on and those you don't.
The Champions League is back next week. What's your feeling ahead of the game vs. Shakhtar Donetsk?
Gotze: It's a good one. We're in a good spot, we play away to Donetsk first and we know that it won't be easy. In the Champions League, details decide over two legs. I believe we have a super chance [to win] in all three competitions. We want to do well in all of them until the end.
Is it possible to learn some lessons from the previous season? You weren't quite able to replicate the super performances of the first half of the campaign then.
Gotze: Of course we have learned from that. We need to be on point. But [Bayern] played very well last season, too. With a bit of luck in certain moments in the semifinal, we might have made it to the final. That's our target again. We want to be playing two finals in Berlin, in the DFB Cup and the Champions League. But first, we have to do our homework. It won't be easy in the away game [against Shakhtar].
I read in an interview with Xabi Alonso that Pep Guardiola coaches players in great detail. One example was him telling you "Mario, just stand still. The ball will come to you." Are you still learning new things at your age under that kind of manager?
Gotze: Absolutely. There's a lot of things you can still learn. When you're young, you always want the ball, you run a lot into spaces. At first it sounds strange to you that someone says 'Stop running, wait for the ball," but it's one of many things that you can and should learn. It's part of my development.
Do you feel that might be able to make a big step forward under Guardiola?
Gotze: I feel as If I have done that already, in a way. But you want to improve, to develop further, naturally. Guardiola's the right coach for that. There's a lot yet to learn, from his ideas, from the details he sees on the pitch: the way you move, what you should do, what positions you should take up, how you attack the ball offensively and defensively. There's a lot.
Can you explain a bit how that works in training? Does he talk a lot to you about these details?
Gotze: Yes. He tries to help every player individually -- for example, by looking at video analysis, pointing out certain things on the screen and then practicing them outside to make it work, so that every player knows exactly where he as to run, into which positions. He also shows you how the opponent will play and how you should react to that. These are things we wouldn't pick up by ourselves. That's the key thing.
You said earlier that you were perhaps more willing to take on players. Is that a case of confidence, as well as fitness?
Gotze: A lot of things are down to confidence. But as a footballer, everyone has their own specific qualities. You try to help the team by performing well, and then you are bound to get into these type of situations, even when the opponents are defending deep and make it difficult to find space and goal-scoring opportunities. We saw that against Stuttgart [Bayern won 2-0].
Do you enjoy playing with your old buddy Robert Lewandowski on the same team again?
Gotze: Sure. We got along really well at Dortmund. He's a world-class player and I'm happy that he's here. He can help the team and everyone individually. We link up really well on the pitch.
How do you see Dortmund's season, from a distance? It's been pretty brutal.
Gotze: I'm very surprised. I don't think anyone expected that. It was really important for them to get all three points at the weekend [at Freiburg; Dortmund won 3-0]. Now they have to continue [getting results], and I'm sure they will. It's hard to say where they'll be at the end of the season, but I'm optimistic.
Philipp Lahm has said that the intensity had been missing against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal last season, that maybe the team wasn't that hungry as they had been the year before. Can you work on something like that or is there also an element of luck involved, of being on top your game at the right time?
Gotze: Luck? I'm not sure. In football you know that you have to give it your all for 90 minutes, to push all the way. As a team, you have to try to win by helping each other, supporting each other. Last year, it just went badly for us. When you go behind from a set piece ... these are the details that are decisive. But you have 90 minutes, so it's important to perform for 90 minutes.
Will the experience of having won a big trophy in Brazil help you in these kind of games, you feel? Many Bayern players seemed to have benefitted from winning the Champions League in 2013 when it came to the World Cup. Maybe it can work the other way around for you?
Gotze: Well, the good thing is I haven't won the Champions League yet. I want to win it, badly. There won't be any motivational issues for me. We are well prepared, we all want to get to the final in Berlin. We need to concentrate and play our game. But it's a long way to go. First, there is Donetsk. It won't be easy, especially in the first leg away from home. We know that.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.