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Mario Gotze: How the 'German Messi' Will Fit into Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich

MALAGA, SPAIN - APRIL 03:  Mario Gotze of Borussia Dortmund (2ndR) duels for the ball among Malaga CF players during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match between Malaga CF and Borussia Dortmund at La Rosaleda Stadium on April 3, 2013 in Malaga, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2013

It's official: Bayern Munich have agreed to a contract with Mario Gotze, and the club will activate a €37 million buy-out clause in the player's contract to see him move to the Sabener Strasse at season's end.

The transfer marks a turning point in the futures of the player and and both clubs involved. And of course, Gotze's move to Bayern has enormous implications for the futures of many stars among Die Roten.

Before continuing, it first must be established that Gotze is absolutely meant to be a starter in the Bayern team. He may only turn 21 in June, but the Germany international has directly contributed to more goals (39) this season than Franck Ribery (31), Mario Mandzukic (31) and Toni Kroos (19).

Thomas Muller is the only Bayern player who has matched Gotze's output. The 20-year-old is much more than just stats, though. Ribery is the only Bayern player who comes anywhere near the ability of the versatile attacker, who Matthias Sammer once described as "One of the greatest talents [Germany] have ever had." And he will only get better.

This all begs the question: How will Gotze fit into the Bayern lineup? If the transfer were to have taken place in the summer of 2014, the move would have been implicitly related to the impending decline of Franck Ribery, who at the end of next season will be 31 years of age.

Ribery will eventually need to be replaced, but he's had a very good 2012-13 and is not yet ready to be relegated to the bench. Nor will Gotze accept a role that involves sharing time with him.

Muller may not have all the technique of Gotze or Ribery, but he has proven his value to the Bayern team again and again. It was he who scored against Chelsea, and no Bayern player has contributed to as many goals as he has this season. He will not be benched.

Kroos was the least productive of the Bayern front four in terms of goals and assists before his season-ending injury, but the 23-year-old is a dream player for incoming coach Pep Guardiola. His skill in short- and long-range passing is rivaled by few, and in Pep's system—which utilized the diminutive and defensively limited Xavi and Andres Iniesta to devastating effect—the ex-Hansa Rostock academy player's rather lackluster defending will not be a great problem. Whether formally used in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, he will remain part of a three-man central midfield.

The only place with room for Gotze is the position of center forward. This position is relatively new to the player, who has only been used as an attacking focal point in a few games for Germany, but it fits his qualities and Guardiola's tactical style. The trainer transformed Lionel Messi from a winger to a "false nine," and can do the same to Gotze at Bayern.

Gotze's use as a striker will of course relegate Mandzukic to the bench, an extremely cruel but absolutely foreseeable event. Guardiola had no qualms disposing of Samuel Eto'o in the summer of 2009, just weeks after the Cameroon international scored his 36th goal of the season in the Champions League final.

Guardiola certainly did not hesitate to offload record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic a year later, when he had plans to use Messi as his central striker. The trainer's plan was bold, but vindicated by the success it led to. In the years that followed, the Argentine developed from world-class to arguably the greatest attacking player of all time.

In Gotze, Guardiola has his new Messi—a player of tremendous ability in every area of attacking football, but for in the air. Mandzukic may be a fan favorite, but he lacks the skill set Guardiola values in a striker. If Eto'o was so easily cast away, the inertia for Guardiola to do the same to the Croat will be easily overcome.

Mandzukic is not the first striker to give everything to Bayern only to be thrown under the proverbial bus. Mario Gomez scored 80 goals in two seasons for the Munich giants, only for Bayern president Uli Hoeness to label him "good but not very good," and publicly blame him for the team's loss to Chelsea in last season's Champions League final.

With Mandzukic ahead of him in the pecking order, Gomez is almost sure to be sold. His agent recently told Bild that his client is unhappy with his current situation, and that will only be exacerbated by the striker becoming third choice in a system designed for a forward of a completely different skill set.

With Gotze, Ribery and Muller being supported by Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, Bayern will more or less play the same style of riveting and attractive football that Guardiola employed at Barcelona.

However, just as the trainer had to make some difficult and perhaps heart-wrenching decisions in adjusting his squad, he will have to do the same in relegating dedicated servants such as Mandzukic and Gomez to the bench or selling them off altogether.

It's cold, perhaps, but success always comes at a price. Now that Bayern's chips are in, they alone are responsible for the Bundesliga's long-term international performance. They can only hope Gotze lives up to expectations.

 

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