By SHAM MAJID
The will-he, won't he play conundrum has finally been put to bed.
Borussia Dortmund's precocious midfield wizard Mario Gotze has finally lost his battle to be fit for the UEFA Champions League final against arch-rival Bayern Munich - the club he will join next season - on Saturday.
While the imminent loss of such a key cog in BVB's attack would normally be mourned by the Signal Iduna Park faithful, the majority of the Dortmund fans will not be batting an eyelid at his absence.
Then again, as the world awaits with bated breath for Saturday's explosive encounter between two of Germany's fiercest enemies, the build-up to the 2013 Champions League final has been anything but routine.
While the countdown to the Champions League final normally centres on the forthcoming battle on the pitch, Saturday's fixture has firmly focused on proceedings off it.
It has ranged from boardroom barbs exchanged between high-level officials of both clubs to reports of Gotze spotted house-hunting in Munich.
Ever since Dortmund grudgingly announced that Bayern had signed 20-year-old Gotze for a reported €37 million, the academy graduate has been labeled Dortmund's public enemy No.1 and vilified as a Judas.
Although the attacking midfielder subsequently played a starring role in his side's quarter-final first-leg 4-1 demolition of Real Madrid, the sight of several Dortmund fans burning a replica of his jersey meant Gotze had done the same to his bridges at the club.
While manager Jurgen Klopp and club chief executive officer Hans-Joachim Watzke expressed their devastation at the player's decision to jump ship to Bayern, they urged fans to show restraint and appealed for calm as they concentrated on plotting their way through to the Champions League's latter stages.
However, in the eyes of the fans, this was a betrayal of ultimate proportions.
Having seen Gotze rise through the ranks since joining the club as an eight-year-old, the Germany international's desire to play for Munich was seen as a stinging slap in their faces.
Intriguingly though, the 20-year-old has been spared from the firing line in the Champions League final after he limped off with a thigh injury in the opening stages of his team's second-leg tie against Madrid.
While Dortmund have now declared that Gotze will not be able to line up against his future employers at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, his omission would perhaps be a blessing in disguise for Klopp and his team.
With players and staff of each team clashing during both sides' 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga on May 4, along with the constant trading of insults off the pitch, Dortmund should be relieved that the Gotze saga has finally been laid to rest.
While the player's importance to Dortmund cannot be discounted, Klopp will have other options at his disposal.
Dortmund fans make their feelings known towards Gotze and his decision to join Bayern.
More importantly, Gotze's absence will ensure that the Dortmund squad will rid itself of any lingering distractions and unsettlement caused by the midfielder's impending transfer.
Ahead of arguably the club's most important match of their history, Klopp and company should be channeling all their energies and attention towards usurping Bayern on the pitch, rather than off it.
The fans will also be united, with the Gotze circus show and questions over his commitment polarising them fans ahead of Saturday's final.
Klopp would be better off ensuring that key defender Mats Hummels - a major doubt with an ankle injury - is able to recover and take his place at the heart of defence against the Bundesliga champions.
With The Daily Mail reporting this week that Gotze was seen hunting for apartments in Munich ahead of his move to Bavaria next season, it is perhaps in the best interests of Dortmund that their one-time darling stays away from proceedings on Saturday.