"Honestly, Mario Gomez is a puzzle to me. He is the only one who seems to have not developed like the rest of the team." FC Bayern München's honorary president Franz Beckenbauer did not mince his words 18 months ago when discussing the club's record signing.
Even president Uli Hoeness, who finally persuaded Gomez to leave VfB Stuttgart in 2009, said: "Mario is our problem child. Maybe this is the first time in his life that he has his back against the wall − and in this situation he has to climb the north face of the Eiger. We will see if he can manage."
However, as of January 2012, and to stick with Hoeness's mountaineering metaphor, Gomez has not only stormed the Eiger, but is now eyeing up Everest − 62 goals in as many games in all competitions tell their own story. This season he is the top marksman in the Bundesliga with 16 and is joint leader with none other than Lionel Messi in the UEFA Champions League with six strikes to his name.
It now seems unthinkable that he was the fourth forward in the pecking order under former coach Louis van Gaal and was on the verge of a transfer to Liverpool FC. "I am proud and happy to have made my way here," Gomez says now, looking back. His revival started under Van Gaal, he struck 28 league goals in 2010/11, and has continued apace under Jupp Heynckes. Former Bayern greats are now queuing up to praise him. "
He has a built-in radar for the goal," Ottmar Hitzfeld said. "Gomez is world-class."
Words like those will probably never leave the lips of the modest Gomez. Even so, the 26-year-old, who made his name with 63 goals in 121 Bundesliga matches at Stuttgart, is not afraid of aiming high. "Every player wants to realise the dream of winning a treble," he said, with Bayern joint top of the Bundesliga, through to the German Cup last eight and in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 − the final of which will be played at their Fußball Arena München home.
"You don't just go out and achieve your dreams, though," he added. "We know we're capable of doing it, but that also goes for a few other clubs in Europe." The continent's premier club competition is top of Gomez's wish list. "Playing a final in your own stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; that's why this is a big goal of mine.
We are one of the best five to seven teams on this planet and we have to show it. But you still cannot plan winning the Champions League."
With Germany much fancied to do well at UEFA EURO 2012, Gomez also has goals outside club football and is happy to have truly settled at Bayern. "I feel really well here and want to stay a part of this team," said Gomez, who has registered 54 goals in 78 Bundesliga games for the club. "It does not make any sense to let up. I have to give it all I have. We are not where I want to be by a long shot."
The son of a Spanish father and a German mother has no urgent desire to move abroad. Having mentioned the possibility of playing in Spain at the beginning of his career, those plans now seem to have taken a back seat. "My Spanish relatives are keen on me playing there sometimes, but I can still do that at 36."
His immediate future is in Germany, though, with both the national team − Mannschaft coach Joachim Löw has said "his skills are outstanding" – and Bayern, with The Kaiser, as ever, having the last word on the subject: "If someone is playing such dominant football in the Bundesliga, one of the strongest leagues in the world, then you have to rate him as world-class," Beckenbauer now says.
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