On Friday 13 July, at approximately 10:23 pm UK time, it will be exactly four years since Mario Götze scored Germany’s World Cup-winning goal in the Maracana, seven minutes before the end of extra-time, after an enthralling and tense battle with Argentina.
Stood on the touchline as Götze prepared to take the place of Germany legend Miroslav Klose, coach Joachim Löw had said, “Show the world you are better than [Lionel] Messi.”
Set the impossible task, he did his utmost to achieve it.
Over a billion people were watching as he chested down a lofted pass from Andre Schürrle, before swivelling and volleying in one movement, beating Sergio Romero, the Argentine goalkeeper.
The shock on Götze’s face as the enormity of the feat he had just achieved attempted to sink in resonated hard. At the age of 22, he had just achieved something many of the world’s best players can only dream of; at the age of 22, he had reached the pinnacle.
After such an achievement, it would have been reasonable to think that Götze would go on to become one of the world’s greatest players. Fast-forward almost four years, though, and almost the opposite can be said.
Since lighting up Brazil with a sublime touch and volley in a moment that will forever be in the history books, Götze has rejoined Borussia Dortmund, the side he left to join Bayern Munich as he emerged as one of Germany’s leading young players. Under Pep Guardiola at the Allianz Arena, he improved but was never able to establish himself as a regular in a team packed full of superstars.
He had the option of signing for Liverpool, managed by Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund coach that he left to join Bayern, but chose instead to go back to Signal Iduna Park, where his career began at the age of nine, and where he had been most comfortable and showed the biggest signs of his clear, underlying talent.
A muscle disorder that threatened to end his career and several other injuries such as ankle ligament damage and multiple muscle strains have limited his progress and strained his mental strength. To be taken from one of the highest highs to perhaps one of the lowest lows in being injured for a sustained period would be tough for anyone to stomach.
By the time Russia hosts the opening game of this World Cup, he will be 26: that should see him at the peak of his powers. Instead, he may not even be in Germany’s squad.
It is the same story for Marco Reus, a man yet to feature at all in a major international competition such has been his wretched luck with injuries and the intense pressure for places among a hotbed of footballing talents in Germany.
Götze’s fall seems all the more painful and heartbreaking, though, given he spent a moment at the very top only to have all that promise of a glittering career snatched away from him.
That he has not even come close to fully fulfilling his unlimited potential is a disappointment not just to him, but to the world of football. It is a loss to those who watch the game who have missed out on watching him flourish.
He had his moment at the very top, which should have ignited a career that put him alongside Neymar, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Andres Iniesta in the group of players just behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi in the very top bracket of world football.
At a time when Isco and Paulo Dybala are emerging as some of the most talented players, Götze would have fitted right in alongside them given his diminutive style. For a brief moment, he experienced life at the very top, and then it was gone.
There was controversy at Bayern when he wore a Nike t-shirt – the famous sports company are his sponsors – at his unveiling. Adidas are Bayern’s kit manufacturer and it was seen in Germany that Götze was a young man more fixated on his earnings than becoming the player every scout knew he could become.
Perhaps that reputation was unfair – after all, he was only 20 at the time and he was ill-advised – but he has never managed to shake off the tag.
A combination of his ill-advised moves and unfortunate injuries and debilitating health issues meant he never got the career he seemed destined to have. It could still happen, but with every passing season and every new injury blow, it seems unlikely.
Once described as a ‘once in a generation talent’ by fellow German Felix Magath, it seems Götze may have seen his best days. He may always be remembered as the man who won Germany the World Cup, but the man who could have done so much more.