Uefa Champions League: Gotze the darling of Dortmund again; Ronaldo cuts unhappy figure at Madrid
What a noise a straightforward substitution can make. When Mario Gotze came off the field on Friday night, 20 minutes from full time, with his Borussia Dortmund team winning 2-1 against Freiburg, the sound that greeted the change of personnel came as a great relief.
He was applauded by the majority, encouraging for Gotze and for the form team of the Bundesliga.
A day later, in the same minute of Real Madrid’s fixture at Las Palmas, the league leaders of Spain made a significant substitution. Madrid were winning 2-1 in the Canary Islands, and manager Zinedine Zidane, his mind on the trip to Dortmund for Tuesday’s standout Uefa Champions League game on Matchday 2 of the group phase, withdrew Cristiano Ronaldo. Suffice to report, unlike Gotze, Ronaldo was not relieved. He was unhappy, and his body language made theatre of his bad mood.
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The frisson around a perceived clash of opinions over the tactical decision made by Zidane over his superstar player is still being felt, partly because Madrid then turned their advantage into a 2-2 draw after the peeved Portuguese was summoned to the bench. Ronaldo has not been in top form, and Madrid face, in Germany, their toughest fixture of the season so far with no wins in their last two matches; Dortmund have scored 20 goals in their last four games.
The applause for Gotze was not guaranteed, although the fact that so many of the 80,000 in the Westfalenstadion were in buoyant spirits at their club’s great run probably amplified it.
Gotze had been awaiting Friday’s big moment with some trepidation, and a sensitive ear to how he would be received by supporters. It was his first home game in front of the formidable so-called “Yellow Wall”, the noisy bank of fans behind one goal, for more than three years; for 1,248 days to be precise.
Gotze was once the teenaged darling of Dortmunders. They were once proud to watch him become the golden kid of German football in their exciting team, loved his confidence and quick feet. Gotze featured prominently in the back-to-back league title-winning sides of 2011 and 2012, as an 18- and then a 19 year old wunderkind.
He helped guide Dortmund to the 2013 Champions League final, but by the time that date arrived, he had made it known his future was elsewhere – at Bayern Munich, who went on to beat Dortmund in that final and have kept on finishing ahead of them ever since.
Gotze imagined moving to Bayern would progress his career. After the end of his first season there, he certainly achieved a status very few compatriots can match, by scoring, as a substitute, the winning goal for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final. The trouble for Gotze was that he was to spend too much time as a substitute for club and country. Bayern did not need him as much as they anticipated they would when they paid nearly €40 million (Dh165m) to take him from Dortmund.
So there was a logic in his returning to Dortmund, age 24, this summer: Logical for the player, good for a Dortmund who had just aid goodbye to creators such as Ilkay Gundogan and Henrykh Mkhitaryan. But he had been regarded as a betrayer while at Bayern, booed whenever he came “home” wearing the rival jersey.
Has he been forgiven? He thinks so. “The way the fans reacted to me against Freiburg was special,” said Gotze at the weekend. He did hear some whistles, from some Dortmunders still unready to forget his leaving, then coming back. “It was an overwhelming majority who cheered him, and they drowned out the whistles,” said Thomas Tuchel, the Dortmund manager.
Gotze played well under his particular pressure, too, though his place in the starting XI against Ronaldo’s Madrid is by no means a certainty. If he does get on the field, it will feel poignant. Before Friday, his last match in a Dortmund strip at the Westfalenstadion had been a Champions League semi-final, 1,248 days earlier, against Madrid. And he was on the winning side.
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Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM