Mehmet Scholl was a key member of the last German team to win a European Championship - and it looks as if the 41-year-old could be instrumental in another triumph this summer.
Scholl, the former Bayern Munich midfielder, is unlikely to see much playing time in Poland and Ukraine, but that little detail will not reduce the credit he deserves if and when Joachim Low’s men come home with something better than silver or bronze medals for a change. For all the evidence points to a truly magnificent feat: 'Scholli' the jovial, indie-music loving and keen amateur bowler, seems to have unlocked the mystery of Mario Gomez’s mind.
“I was afraid he’d get hurt from lying around so much, that he needed turning over. He didn’t do enough,” Scholl had said about the Germany striker with uncharacteristic venom in the wake of the Portugal game. Gomez had scored the only goal in a tight 1-0 win, of course, but for Scholl, that did not detract from one of those strangely lethargic performances in which the 1.89-metre striker was again hardly there.
His passive, waiting style has brought plenty of goals - 41 in all competitions - for Bayern this past season but there has always been the nagging sense that he could do a lot more if only he, well ... did a lot more. In the defeats against Dortmund, his relaxed style contrasted unfavourably with the unselfish industry of Robert Lewandowski, and against Chelsea in the Champions League final, he went completely missing after spurning a couple of chances before the break.
"It was pressure without end. A few hundred kilos on my shoulders. I had three days of abuse. It’s a shame but I’m happy that the important people stood behind me"
- Mario Gomez after 2-1 win over Netherlands
At his club, they have long been aware that Gomez does not quite do himself justice, but they have been unsure how to actually tell him. Despite his air of cool, controlled confidence, Gomez is rather sensitive - it took him nearly a year to recover from a bad miss against Austria in Euro 2008, for example. Louis van Gaal nearly destroyed him completely, telling him that he was not his type of player and even tried to send him to Liverpool on loan. His first season after his €30 million move to the Allianz Arena was more or less a write-off as a consequence.
Public policy is that an arm should be put around him at all times. Care for his mental well-being goes so far that Bayern are even worried that a second leading centre forward in the squad could threaten Gomez’s tranquility and push him off-balance. That is one of the reasons why all these rumours about Bayern going for Edin Dzeko or Olivier Giroud have not (yet) materialised.
The stinging reply of sporting director Christian Nerlinger to Scholl’s criticism was indicative of this protective blanket. “Out of order”, “wrong”, “excessive”, “completely inappropriate”, said the 39-year-old chief. Gomez himself seemed unconcerned. He said that Scholl, a Bayern Munich youth coach, was entitled to his opinion and insisted that there was “no need” to change his style.
Against the Dutch, however, we saw a markedly different kind of Gomez. His two, beautifully taken goals aside, the 26-year-old ran like never before, helping to create space off Mesut Ozil, tracking back, getting in the way. It was the kind of muscular, authoritative performance any centre forward can aspire to. Crucially, Gomez’s post-match comments revealed that he had been hurt a lot more than he had let on.
“It was pressure without end,” he said. “A few hundred kilos on my shoulders. I had three days of abuse. It’s a shame but I’m happy that the important people stood behind me.” The last bit was a reference to Low, who had indeed stuck with him despite public calls for the re-instatement for Miroslav Klose.
“I’m proud of him, success and performance went together today [Wednesday],” said Scholl, who, Gomez revealed, had told him before that all the criticism was only meant to bring out the best in him.
Whether Scholl's scathing "lying around” criticism had come with the secret backing of Bayern president Uli Hoeness we will perhaps never know but Wednesday night was certainly an eye-opener. Gomez, it seems, has not only grown his ultra-sensitive personae, he really does benefit from a metaphorical kick up the backside like everybody else. Maybe the threat of Klose helped to bring out his best, too.
The lessons of this saga are most relevant for Bayern but Germany can thank Scholl that he has the real, hidden Gomez finally showing his true potential after so many false starts with the black and white of the national team. Die Mannschaft are a completely different animal when he is around in spirit, not just in body.
Raphael Honigstein is The Guardian's German football correspondent and is talkSPORT's expert on all matters concerning Germany. Honigstein also writes for the BBC and Sports Illustrated, as well as Suddeutsche Zeitung. Before getting involved with journalism Honigstein studied law and has also written books including 'Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger' and Englischer Fussball: A German View of Our Beautiful Game.