It has been quite the journey for Germany striker Mario Gomez since leaving FC Bayern München for ACF Fiorentina in 2013. Now back in the Bundesliga with VfL Wolfsburg, bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the striker's path back to top form and, ultimately, the German top-flight.
A Bundesliga record transfer when he swapped first club Stuttgart for FC Bayern in 2009, Gomez won the Torjägerkanone with 28 goals in his second season in Bavaria. A three-time Bundesliga champion who won the treble in Munich as recently as the 2012/13 campaign, there should perhaps be little surprise that Gomez was a key player as Germany progressed to the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2016 this summer. The intervening time, though, was fraught.
"It was my big motivation to be part of this great [Germany] team once more," said Gomez on the eve of the tournament, looking back on a successful 2015/16 campaign that saw him fire Besiktas JK to the Turkish Süper Lig title with a league-high 26 goals. "Now I'm just proud and happy to be going [to EURO 2016]."
From the archive: Gomez's time in the Bundesliga
Gomez scored on his debut for the Nationalmannschaft in February 2007 - a 3-1 friendly win over Switzerland at Fortuna Düsseldorf's ESPRIT arena - and was part of the squads that finished as runners up at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland as well as third at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. So often the nearly-men with Gomez in their ranks, Germany ended an 18-year wait for an international title when they went all the way at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. Gomez watched the tournament at home nursing a knee injury, though the free-scoring form of the ever-green Miroslav Klose left lingering suspicions that Gomez would not have been on the plane anyway.
"There was no call," said Gomez of his omission from Joachim Löw's 23-man party. "Obviously 2014 was hard. I had already anticipated that I might not go to Brazil because I was injured for a long time, but I always had a little hope. When he [Löw] announced that I was not going, I was disappointed. It became real at that moment. That hurt."
Between a September 2014 4-2 friendly defeat to Argentina and a 2-0 loss to France last November, Gomez spent an unfortunately fitting 13 games in the international wilderness. At club level, his move from Bayern to Fiorentina in July 2013 failed to live up to expectations, with Gomez finding the target just seven times in two years before last summer's loan transfer to Besiktas. Once again, injuries played their role, but they were not alone in holding up the striker's progress in Italy.
"I had a lack of planning," he said. "I did not look at my career. When you are young, you imagine what the course of your career will probably be, for which clubs you want to play. My plan was to go to Florence and then to Spain. That did not work out."
Spain might have been an ideal semi-retirement destination for Gomez, who, as his full name Mario Gomez Garcia betrays, is of Spanish extraction. Gomez was born in the Baden-Württemberg town of Riedlingen to a German mother and a father - Jose 'Pepe' Gomez Garcia - who hails from a village in Granada near Spain's southern coast. Instead, Gomez rediscovered his goalscoring touch at the opposite end of the Mediterranean basin, firing the Istanbul-based Black Eagles to their first top-flight triumph in seven years.
"I had no idea what to expect in Istanbul. If we are honest, we do not read many good things about Turkey, especially with regard to the political situation, but then I got to Istanbul and I thought: 'Hey, see it out, the only thing that matters is the football.' One of my biggest goals was to return to the national team. That was going around and around in my head. It is probably why I was more motivated than ever before."
Return to the national team Gomez has, and with a vengeance. His two-goal salvo in France means he now has 29 goals in 68 caps, and is only four away from overhauling the great Fritz Walter in the top ten of all-time scorers for Die Nationalmannschaft. Perhaps more ominously, he has also rediscovered his club form and will spearhead the attack of a Wolves team who have designs on returning to European competition.
"This team [Wolfsburg] have huge potential and I wanted to be back in the Bundesliga. The team and I both share the same hunger to be successful. That's why I'm here," said Gomez at his unveiling. The teams in Germany this season have been warned.