THE reporting of Liverpool’s renewed interest in Mario Gotze (by the unimpeachable Melissa Reddy) was roundly greeted with a consensus of eye rolling and head shaking by the Liverpool FC nation.
Why do we want he who didn’t want us, and has turned out to be a dreadful flop anyway? And he’s now sick as a butcher’s dog too — news this week that he is suffering with a muscle weakening condition called ‘myopathy’.
On first reading, Gotze looks the very definition of a must-swerve signing.
Borussia Dortmund, his current keepers, are awash with attacking talent at the moment. To the extent that the waning but expensive Mario has barely had a look in this season. He represented the club’s marquee signing of the summer at £21.7 million, but now looks eminently expendable.
Gotze’s career stalled at Bayern Munich, where opportunities were thin on the ground during Pep Guardiola’s reign. His star was very much descendent when both Liverpool and Dortmund sought to get themselves something of a bargain (albeit only a relative one) last summer. Dortmund saw off the Reds but their victory has proved a pyrrhic one.
The German club have two options – firstly, to be patient and attempt to rehabilitate Gotze, or, secondly, to view him as no great sacrifice given the alternatives available to them, and to simply attempt to cut losses. The question is: what kind of hit are they prepared to take?
Enter Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp. Jürgen knows the player very well. He made Mario the man he once was. He still has him as a ‘favourite’ on his contacts. Klopp says he has spoken to Gotze about what he is currently going through. He will have a detailed grasp of the fitness issues around the player. The Liverpool manager will have a clear idea of what the probabilities are that Gotze will be able to make a full recovery.
Klopp will also know that at just 24 years of age, time remains on the player’s side. He is also sure he understands the lad’s character and work ethic. Gotze has always been an open book to him. Jürgen is the one manager to have consistently gleaned world class performances from him.
And this is the key – Gotze was world class. The main man in a German World Cup-winning machine. And not just world class in a different life. The player is not touching 30. He is still the right side of being classifiable as a ‘young with the potential to get better’.
Of course, he’s been a pale shadow of his early vintage self for a good while now, and that is why Dortmund are having a big chin scratch about his future. That is why opportunity may be knocking for Klopp and Liverpool.
The noises subtextually emanating from Liverpool are that they only might, if they’re asked very nicely, just might, consider being big enough to take Gotze off Dortmund’s hands. It is a negotiating stance that says we’ll take a punt on him at a low risk price.
Dortmund are thinking – Mario has best part of a four-year contract left and is on something north of £150,000-a-week. Let’s give him a modest pay off and let somebody else take him off our hands – we don’t need him anyway – for something around half the figure we paid for him.
Klopp is thinking – if we could get Gotze for about £8/9m and get him on a wage deal conditional upon appearances, then he might be worth a punt. The downside is that he never regains his full capacity and we’re writing off a modest contract and a relatively small transfer fee. The upside though – pause for a second – the upside bears thinking about. Klopp believes, having spoken to his prodigy, that the fitness issue can be overcome fairly swiftly with treatment. He’s got the inside track from the boy and it all sounds worse than it is. Imagine, if we get him to shake off a problem that has held him back for two years now, and we become the beneficiaries of a reborn Gotze.
A fit Gotze is at the very least a more than solid addition to a squad that hopes to have the resources for a Champions League campaign. For a very modest investment, Liverpool’s bench could potentially be looking a much more formidable proposition.
But Klopp is thinking bigger than this, while simultaneously taking that scenario. He is prepared to bet a relatively small wedge that he can be the beneficiary of the second coming. It is a bet he can afford to make with small change, and at near zero opportunity cost to the rest of his plans. That the manager wants Liverpool to at least be in the conversation should only be applauded.