An outstretched leg to guide the ball slowly into the back of the net was a fitting way for Mario Gomez to score the last goal of his professional career. The 34-year-old striker couldn’t help Stuttgart to a final day win but he had helped them to return to the Bundesliga in his final season, his parting wish for the club that made him.
The end of Gomez’s career is the end of an era for the out-and-out German center forward. Other than Miroslav Klose, the modern era of German football has not be littered with prolific striking talent. Gomez, the son of a Spanish father and a German mother, was a tall, strong forward who was there just to score. The game is faster now and more is expected from players in each position, but there will always be something magical about players who just scored goals. Mario Gomez was one of those.
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Mario Gomez was part of Bayern Munich’s treble-winning team in 2013.
Gomez’s career took off when he scored 14 goals to unexpectedly help Stuttgart to the 2007 Bundesliga title. Two more seasons of big goal tallies (19 and 24 respectively) and a move to Bayern Munich was inevitable.
In his four seasons in Bavaria, he never failed to score double-figures in the league. When Borussia Dortmund won the title in 2011, Gomez scored 28 goals for Bayern. The following year, Dortmund won again. Gomez delivered again, scoring 26. His role in the treble winning year was less prominent, as he became more of a penalty-box striker, but in his final game for Bayern, the German Cup final no less, Gomez fittingly scored a brace against Stuttgart to secure the third trophy.
When he signed for Fiorentina, thousands filled the stands. A serious injury denied him success in Italy and a spot at the 2014 World Cup. Between 2008 and 2018, the tournament in Brazil was the only one Gomez wasn’t in the Germany squad. For the striker who finished his international career with 78 caps and 31 goals, it was a cruel twist of fate that that was the only tournament Germany won.
Throughout his career, Gomez had shown that, whatever the style of play, there is always value in having someone in the squad capable of putting the ball in the back of the net. Throughout his Germany career he had been as reliable as his goals. Not being involved in the glory in 2014 almost seemed unfair for a player who had given so much to Germany teams that weren’t quite perfect when they needed to be.
Proving doubters wrong
Beyond his service though lay an uncomfortable truth. Gomez was never really feared as a striker. Despite scoring 170 goals in the Bundesliga, winning the golden boot in Germany and Turkey and scoring 23 goals in 39 Champions League games for Bayern, Gomez spent most of his career trying to prove people wrong.
Against Austria at the 2008 Euros, Gomez failed to tap the ball in from three yards out with the goal at his mercy. The bounce was unkind but it was nevertheless a haunting miss. To miss the kind of chance he was there to take, the kind he would spend his career scoring, on such a big stage was damaging.
“It has actually taken my whole career to show people it was a one-off mistake,” Gomez said in 2017. “I had to ask does one miss change everything? I tried so hard to win these people back but the more I tried, the more tense I became.”
Perhaps that would explain why, on a handful of occasions over his career, Gomez missed a sitter or stumbled over the ball. He needn’t have worried, though. While many booed or dismissed him as nothing more than a backup option, Gomez always had his goals. He didn’t terrorize defenses or strike fear in the heart of the opposition, because he didn’t need to. He scored goals and that was enough.
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Mario Gomez’ patented goal celebration was a regular sight during his one season with Besiktas
A great modern goalscorer
Right when it looked like Mario Gomez would fade into the history books as a talented former Bundesliga striker who won a few trophies with Bayern, the three-time Bundesliga winner moved to Besiktas.
In a season he considers one of the best of his career, Gomez’s memorable goal celebration, a tribute to the curtesy from the bullfighting arena, was a regular sight. Gomez and Istanbul were the perfect match. Gomez stayed fit, scored 26 goals to win the golden boot and help Besiktas to the Super Lig title. By the time the 2018 World Cup came around, Gomez was back in the squad.
After one impressive year at Wolfsburg, Gomez found it harder to be the center forward he had always been. He returned to Stuttgart and, after relegation from the Bundesliga, stuck around to help them secure promotion. He might have only scored seven goals in 23 games in his final season as a pro but without them Stuttgart, a club that won automatic promotion by three points, would have been five points worse off.
He might not be remembered as one of the great strikers, but Mario Gomez was one of the great goalscorers in modern football. And after years of curtsying for the crowd, it’s time for us to return the favor as the curtain goes down on Gomez’s career.