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In Mario Gomez Fiorentina have seen something the rest of Europe did not | Jonathan W

Jonathan Wilson's Articles (Bot)
Aug 1, 2010
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This feels like a major statement of intent by the Italian club – but where was the interest from Premier League clubs?
Mario Gomez scores lots of goals: 75 in 115 league appearances for Bayern Munich, 63 in 121 for Stuttgart and 25 in 58 games for Germany. Even last season, when he had effectively been relegated to second choice behind Mario Mandzukic, Gomez rattled in 12 goals in 11 starts. When he joined Bayern in 2009, he was the most expensive transfer in Bundesliga history. If various add-on clauses end up being triggered, he will surpass Nuno Gomes as Fiorentina's record signing.
Gomez is 28 on Wednesday, theoretically at least at the peak of his career. And yet there seems to be no great shock or sadness that he is leaving Bayern, no gnashing of teeth from Premier League clubs that another top forward has got away; indeed, even at the height of the silly season when it seems every player in the world is linked to at least one Premier League club, nobody seemed to think anything of him. So why have Fiorentina spent £13m (possibly rising to £17m) on a striker while the rest of the world shrugged its shoulders?
For Fiorentina, this feels like a major statement of intent: the Della Valle family will continue the investment that saw them finish fourth last season under Vincenzo Montella and so qualify for the Europa League. Given the number of forwards in their squad, it is also surely final confirmation that Stevan Jovetic, as was generally expected, will leave this summer – with Juventus still looking the most likely destination. Gomez, though, is far from a like-for-like replacement, offering far less in terms of mobility, versatility and technical ability.
There is a perception that Gomez is profligate, that, although he scores hatfuls of goals, he also misses hatfuls of chances, as though any joker turning up and pulling on a Bayern or Germany shirt would end up with a similar goals return. It's certainly true that he misses chances – and it's not difficult to recall some real sitters he's squandered. Yet the stats suggest he is no worse than anybody else. This season he scored 11 goals from 38 shots – not a perfect measure of his ruthlessness in front of goal, but an indication.
Admittedly, 12 of his 21 appearances in the Bundesliga this season were from the bench, so perhaps he benefited from the tiring limbs of opponents battered by the Bayern machine. But last season he scored 26 goals from 101 shots – so 3.88 shots per goal. This season, the player who replaced him, Mario Mandzukic, scored 15 goals from 67 shots – 4.47 shots per goal. And Mario Götze, signed from Borussia Dortmund and likely to play at least part of next season as a false nine, scored 10 goals from 53 shots: 5.3 shots per goal. It's true that Gomez is more of a penalty-box player than either Mandzukic or Götze and therefore probably had more shots from closer in, but even so, the figures hardly suggest a wanton spendthrift.
Gomez appears to suffer in part because he seems such an unmodern footballer (and in that regard it is appropriate that he so resembles the 1955 version of George McFly in Back to the Future). He is not a false nine, far from it, but neither is he a target man or a whippet, a schemer or a poacher. It's very hard to isolate one aspect of his game and say he excels at it. He is quite good in the air, quite good at holding the ball up, quite good at finishing which would make him something approaching the Valeriy Lobanovskyi ideal of the universal player if he ever dropped deep or pulled wide. He is, rather, just an old-fashioned centre-forward, somebody who has a knack of scoring goals.
The problem is that, in the modern game, at the very highest level, that isn't quite enough. It was injury that cost Gomez his place in the Bayern side, but the reason he couldn't get back in was that Mandzukic, raw and wild as he occasionally still is, was more effective at initiating the press thanks to his prodigious work-rate. With Götze arriving, giving Pep Guardiola the option of a false nine, there was no need to hang on to a player who is not a Guardiola-type of forward – particularly not with £13m on offer.
Gomez's misfortune seems to be that the perception he is not quite in the very first rank, that he is yesterday's model, has rendered him damaged goods even to teams who are not quite themselves of the first rank. It is almost as though across Europe a phalanx of teams on the verge of Champions League qualification have decided that if he isn't quite good enough for Bayern then he isn't good enough for them. It may be, though, that by recognising they are not quite of the elite, Fiorentina have picked up a very serviceable centre-forward.

Jonathan Wilson

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