[EURO 2012 PORTRAIT] Mario Gomez, the grandson of a "guest worker" from Spain, has been the most prolific German scorer for more than half a decade -- but his three goals at Euro 2012 marked a major breakthrough for the 26-year-old striker.
“It felt like a 100-pound burden was lifted off my shoulders,” said Gomez after he scored in Germany’s 1-0 Euro 2012 opener against Portugal. “This was my best and most important goal so far."
That’s because Gomez, who had previously scored 22 goals for Germany and 127 Bundesliga goals, had never struck at a major national team tournament. Which is why many thought he’d serve as a backup to Miroslav Klose at Euro 2012.
But Coach Joachim Loew gave Gomez the start and he headed home the winner against Portugal. He followed up with two strikes in the 2-1 win over the Netherlands. The second on a searing shot from a tight angle and the first after a brilliant spin move that prompted teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger to say: "He's never done anything like that. And if he does it too often we may lose him to Brazil."
It was a goal to quiet the critics who dismissed him as simply a goal poacher, though Gomez has said that's never bothered him.
“For me a goal scored from three meters is just as beautiful as a goal scored from 30 meters into the upper corner,” said Gomez, who has scored 47 goals for club and country in 60 games within the last year.
Only Lionel Messi struck more often (14) than the Gomez (12) in last season’s Champions League. He scored 54 league goals in the last two seasons for Bayern Munich, which bought him from VfB Stuttgart in 2009 for a Bundesliga record transfer fee of about $40 million.
But Gomez remained haunted by his performance at Euro 2008, when he missed sitters in Germany’s first two games. Loew kept faith in Gomez for the must-win final group game against Austria. Five minutes in, Gomez missed an open net from five yards out. He was subbed out and Germany managed a 1-0 win (thanks to a Michael Ballack free kick), and Gomez was dropped from the starting lineup.
At the 2010 World Cup, Gomez made four appearances off the bench but didn’t find the net.
His three goals – on only four shots – at Euro 2012 prompted Germany’s largest circulation daily, Bild, to dub him the nation’s new “Soccer Darling.” Even Britian’s The Sun hailed “Mario Goalmez.”
Gomez’s grandfather Jose moved to Germany from Spain in 1966. He was one of more than 2 million “Gastarbeiter” – migrant laborers recruited in the 1960s and '70s from foreign countries to which they were expected to return. But Jose’s son married a German woman and they gave birth to Mario in 1985. (Jose eventually moved back to Albunan.)
Asked about his mixed heritage, Mario Gomez said:
“Yes, the mixture isn’t bad for soccer. Two very strong soccer nations. I feel more a soccer German, not because I don’t like Spain, but simply because I grew up in Germany and I was raised on Germany soccer. I played for German national teams since the U-15 level. The German disciple is good and very important. The relaxed attitude, joy of life of the Spaniard is also very good. …
“Outside of soccer, I’m 50-50. Half of my family – the entire extended family of my daddy is Spanish and lives in Spain and I’m proud and happy to have grown up with two cultures.”
Gomez turned pro with VfB Stuttgart at age 19 in 2004 and helped it win the Bundesliga title in 2007. Since a young boy, scoring was his joy.
“I’ve been a striker since I was very young,” he said. “For me, scoring goals is the most fun. That’s why I love soccer so much. I can’t get enough of watching goals on TV from other leagues. I watch all the highlight shows.”
Because of his Spanish roots, Gomez is constantly asked about playing in the Spanish league.
“I’ve always been a fan of La Liga,” he said. “But my family would insist I play for the club where they live, Granada, which last season reached the first division for the first time."
Granada barely survived its first season in La Liga, finishing above the relegation zone by one point.
“I’m happy at Bayern,” Gomez said.