By Kris Voakes
In 2011-12, Mario Gomez was on fire. Seemingly unable to stop scoring goals, the Bayern Munich striker was up there alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as a virtual guarantee on the scoresheet each week. He regularly found the net at key times, managed the rare feat of four goals in a single Champions League knockout game and ended the season with 40 strikes in 50 matches at club level.
But 2012-13 has been a very different story for the Germany international. Having missed the start of the campaign through injury, Gomez only made his season debut in late-November and now finds himself on the outside looking in as Bayern continue to get the job done in his absence. Add in the prolonged search for extra resources in attack, which has already come to fruition with the announcement of Mario Gotze's signing this summer, and it is clear that Gomez's stock has fallen considerably in Munich.
However, Tuesday night brings a tipping point for Gomez at Bayern. Mario Mandzukic’s suspension from the Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona opens a door that has been all but locked until now for the former Stuttgart man. The Croatian has been a decent replacement for Gomez, but simply hasn’t proven to have the same firepower as the big No.33. Such has been the form of die Roten, though, Mandzukic has become a key part of a side who have steamrolled their way through almost every opponent they’ve faced this season. Jupp Heynckes has continued to pick the former Wolfsburg man and has yet to feel particularly let down by the result.
MARIO GOMEZ AT BAYERN MUNICH
The effect on Gomez has been huge, but in the past 10 days he has shown that he has everything necessary to answer any questions about his ability. Never during his spell coming off the bench has he done anything other than a good job, yet he showed with a six-goal week against Nuremberg, Wolfsburg and Hannover that his appetite to succeed remains strong.
The summer ahead is a crucial one, meaning Tuesday’s opportunity to shine with the whole of Europe watching could not be timelier. Pep Guardiola’s arrival marks an important period for almost everyone at Bayern, but Gomez is at the head of the list of players whom the majority of onlookers believe to be ill-fitting for the Spaniard’s preferred model. He is not exactly known for his work-rate and has some deficiencies in terms of build-up play, but he remains Bayern’s best bet in front of goal.
That goal-getting quality has resulted in admiring glances being cast by many top clubs around the globe. Chelsea, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Atletico Madrid have all been credited with a serious interest in the 27-year-old, with the continued preference for Mandzukic, Gotze's impending arrival and the touted chase of Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski leaving Gomez at a loose end. The message to Bayern is clear though: If they don’t rate him enough to give him a regular shirt, others will.
Gomez wants to stay at Bayern and fight for his place but is unlikely to stick around for another season warming the bench when he could otherwise be enjoying his peak years as a footballer. The long list of interested parties is likely to come as a boost, but he still has three years to run on his current deal and FCB will hope to sell their €30 million purchase at a premium as a result. Nothing is clear when it comes to Gomez’s future, with no more than one of he and Mandzukic likely to be at the Allianz Arena next season. The German is fast running out of chances to put himself ahead in the pecking order.
|CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MARKSMEN 2012-13
|Thomas Muller||5||Lionel Messi||8|
|Claudio Pizarro||4||Jordi Alba||2|
|Toni Kroos||3||David Villa||1|
|Mario Mandzukic||2||Cesc Fabregas||1|
|Bastian Schweinsteiger||2||Pedro Rodriguez||1|
|David Alaba||2||Cristian Tello||1|
|Arjen Robben||1||Alexis Sanchez||1|
|Franck Ribery||1||Andres Iniesta||1|
“Of course Mario is unhappy,” said Gomez’s agent Uli Ferber recently when asked about the constant under use of his client. “This can’t go on forever. He deserves the coach’s trust in him.”
Ferber went on to send the Bavarians a warning with regard to Gomez’s worth in the eyes of other clubs. “There has always been interest in him,” he stated. “It was like that in Stuttgart, ahead of his Bayern transfer, again before he renewed with Bayern and it is like that now.”
So what is the next step for Gomez? It is hard to tell. When Heynckes passes the baton onto Guardiola, will that also mark the end for the front man? That too is unclear. But one thing is for certain. A classic Mario Gomez performance at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday will give coaches present and future food for thought ahead of a critical period in the career of a striker who still cannot stop scoring.