VfB Stuttgart striker Mario Gomez has been a star in the Bundesliga and beyond for over a decade, ever since bursting onto the scene as a fresh-faced youngster in 2006.
The 33-year-old went full circle in 2017/18, finding his way back to boyhood club Stuttgart after treading a fascinating career path. From tasting glory with Bayern Munich to battling relegation with Wolfsburg, via contrasting stints in Italy and Turkey, there hasn't been a dull moment for the 78-time Germany international, who recently announced his retirement from Die Mannschaft .
As much a style icon as a sporting personality – and even boasting his own website – Gomez certainly stands out from the crowd.
bundesliga.com retraces the history of a centre-forward who has left an indelible mark on German football…
Watch: Mario Gomez's top 3 Bundesliga goals
1) Spanish roots, Brazilian idols
As you might have guessed from his name, Gomez has Spanish roots: his father Jose Gomez Garcia hails from the small village of Albunan, near Granada, while his mother Christel Roth is German. Young Mario inherited his father's love of football from an early age, and has fond memories of his cousins and uncles piling round to the house to watch El Clasico on television.
"My family were all Real Madrid fans, but when it comes to football, nobody could tell me what to do," Gomez wrote in The Players' Tribune. "So I decided to root for Barcelona. I loved watching the Brazilian players: Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and my all-time favourite, Romario. I admired the lightness with which he moved inside the box, and the space he was able to create for himself."
2) Coming of age in Stuttgart
Born in nearby Riedlingen, Gomez turned down an offer to join local club Stuttgart at the age of 13, feeling it was too soon to leave home. He nevertheless ended up on the books at Die Schwaben at 16, and by 18 he was coming up against the likes of Frank Lampard and Marcel Desailly in the UEFA Champions League. Inspired by legendary Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni – who only spent eight months in charge at VfB – Gomez became a formidable finisher, helping his club win their fifth German title in 2006/07. To put the icing on the cake, he was even voted Germany's Footballer of the Year for 2007.
"I was shocked," Gomez admitted, after being informed of the accolade by a kicker journalist. "To be honest, the most important thing for me was that Stuttgart were champions again, after years of finishing fifth or sixth, and I was a part of that success. The award – well, that put me on everyone's radar. I felt like I had finally arrived in professional soccer."
4) Joining the big boys
While Gomez may have missed the chance to star at the Euros, he nevertheless earned a high-profile move to Bayern in the summer of 2009, setting a new Bundesliga transfer record in the process. It took him a little while to adapt to the demands of playing for the Bavarian giants – he only scored 10 goals in his first campaign – but after injuries to fellow strikers Miroslav Klose and Ivica Olic, Gomez seized his opportunity. In 2010/11 he scored a hat-trick against Hannover on Matchday 8 and never looked back, going on to finish as the Bundesliga's top scorer with 28 goals. Within the space of seven months he had gone from an increasingly peripheral figure to one of the first names on Louis van Gaal's teamsheet.
"It was one of the biggest victories of my career," he admitted. "I had completely changed van Gaal's mind about me as a player. More importantly, when things weren't going easy for me, I learned how to work through it."
6) Going out with a bang
Like his teammates, Gomez was determined to rise from the ashes of that Allianz Arena defeat and prove that Bayern were not just the best in Germany, but also in Europe. The story of their fabled 2012/13 season is well documented, although Gomez himself only joined the fray in November after undergoing ankle surgery in the summer. Facing increasing competition from Mario Mandzukic, he only made nine league starts that season – although he still contributed 19 goals in all competitions. Crucially, he was the hero in the DFB Cup final against his old club Stuttgart, scoring twice as Bayern won 3-2 to complete their unprecedented treble. That would be the last of his 174 appearances for FCB, in which he scored an eye-watering 113 goals.
"It's really tough at a club like Bayern," he confessed. "You have to be at 100 per cent every day, and the stakes and expectations are always higher. Having won league titles and the Champions League trophy, I decided that I wanted to try something else. So I went to Italy, to play for Fiorentina."
8) From France to Russia
The 2008 tournament may have ended in frustration for Gomez, but he has certainly enjoyed more success at the Euros than at the World Cup – unlike, for example, his Germany teammate Thomas Müller. In 2012, when at the peak of his powers with Bayern, he scored all three of his side's goals in group-stage wins over Portugal and the Netherlands, although Die Mannschaft were ultimately defeated by Italy in the semi-finals.
Euro 2016 was a similar story. Gomez scored in consecutive wins over Northern Ireland and Slovakia to help Germany into the quarter-finals, where they got their revenge over Italy by winning a tense penalty shoot-out. However, a thigh injury kept him out of the semi-final against France, and without a recognised striker Löw's men succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the hosts.
'Super Mario' was also included in Löw's final 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, coming off the bench in all three of the team's Group F matches, but was unable to find the target as the defending champions were eliminated at the first hurdle.
9) Keeping the Wolves from the Bundesliga trapdoor
Gomez returned to Germany in summer 2016, and played a key role in helping a struggling Wolfsburg side preserve their 20-year Bundesliga status. As well as grabbing 16 goals during the league campaign, he netted again as the Wolves saw off local rivals Eintracht Braunschweig in the relegation play-off. Gomez was the target of some colourful chants from the Braunschweig fans during their Lower Saxony double-header, although it was VfL who had the last laugh when announcing their star man's subsequent contract extension on social media: 'To quote former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt: "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."'
During his stint at Wolfsburg, Gomez scored the club's 1000th goal in the Bundesliga and was handed the captain's armband by coach Andries Jonker at the start of 2017/18.
"I understand every player when he says it's a dream to be named captain of your team," Gomez told kicker. "It’s very special and it means you're doing a good job. However, I don't need to wear the armband as some sort of symbol or recognition. I've always had a close relationship with the coaches I've played for in my career, without being captain."
It has been rightly argued that Gomez is one of the most underrated stars in Bundesliga history, given that he has amassed an eye-watering total of 165 goals and 48 assists in 300 top-flight appearances. That puts him 12th in the all-time scorers list, while only four men have a better goals-to-minutes ratio. But though he rarely features in discussions of Germany's all-time greats, the three-time Bundesliga winner will surely be remembered as one of the best of his generation, a peerless finisher for whom finding the back of the net has always been the pinnacle of the footballing experience.
"I've played for many clubs, many managers, and been through many highs and lows – but one thing has never changed, and that's the feeling of scoring a goal. It's the moment I live for every week. I wish everyone could feel it just once. It's an explosion of feelings. Before you kick the ball, you feel like you're 200 kilos – then it leaves your foot, goes through the air and ripples the net. And for that moment, you're weightless."