Germany international Mario Gomez has been in scintillating form for VfB Stuttgart so far this season, notching a remarkable 13 goals and five assists in just 20 Bundesliga appearances, and a further nine in European and national cup competitions. An impressive record, especially considering the big striker's hapless performances at UEFA EURO 2008.
The stage was set in Austria and Switzerland for Gomez to finally make a breakthrough in the Mannschaft, but by the end of the tournament the 23-year-old of mixed Spanish and German descent had only managed a paltry 211 minutes playing time and not a single goal.
Since then, the man capped 21 times for his country (scoring six goals) has put the European Championships behind him and appears to have used the short break following the showpiece event to recharge his batteries. So far in 2009, there has not been a more prolific striker at club level in Germany than the towering Swabian.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Mario Gomez speaks about his current form, FIFA World Cup™ qualification with Germany and even his superstitions.
FIFA.com: You have been in dazzling form for VfB Stuttgart this season with 22 goals and six assists from 30 matches. How do you explain such consistency?
Mario Gomez: Sometimes you can't explain it, just like you can't explain the bad spells. I always try to do my best, but confidence plays a major role. I have the full support of my club, so I know that the goals will come if we are performing well.
Naturally there has been plenty of speculation regarding your future. Does that bother you, or is it flattering to be linked with some of Europe's biggest clubs?
I actually find it funny. The people who are praising me and linking me with the big clubs at the moment were the ones saying that I couldn't cut it a few weeks ago.
Is there a 'dream club' which you would like to play for one day?
No. As a kid I was a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt and Barcelona, but I don't think I'll be heading to Frankfurt any time soon. I would definitely like to play in Spain at some point, but whether that will be in two, five or ten year's time I couldn't say.
Despite your consistency, your club side have been quite incosistent this season. Straight after the winter break they were knocked out of the DFB Cup, and in the Bundesliga they are struggling to break into the European places. What do you think VfB Stuttgart are capable of achieving by the end of the season?
We know we've been throwing away too many points, so we made it our intention as a team to keep it tight in the second half of the season. If we can do that, we have the required quality to do the business up front. We're still in with a chance of qualifying for a UEFA Cup place and perhaps even more, so we'll be striving to achieve those goals right until the end. The arrival of Markus Babbel as coach was a wake-up call for the whole team and there's a renewed sense of hope amongst the squad. The change has helped us move forward as a unit.
Who is the best striker in the world at the moment?
That has to be Samuel Eto'o. He's already scored an enormous amount of goals this season. Lionel Messi is up there with the best too, but he's more of a midfielder.
And which young German talent have you been most impressed with?
I'm really excited about Andreas [Beck]. He's an incredibly good player and I think it's great that he's involved with the national team now. Sami [Khedira] is another one who has all the qualities to break into the first team.
Why exactly do you wear the number 33 on your back?
When I was younger I always used to wear the number nine, but that was already taken at Stuttgart, so I had a look at which numbers were available and decided on the number 33. I won't be giving it up at club level now as I'm a little bit superstitious - I always put my left boot on before my right and the same with my shinpads. I always use the toilet on the left as well.
On the subject of the German national team, how do you see your role at the moment, particularly with regard to your competitors - Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Patrick Helmes?
I see myself as one of four strikers available to the coach and just to do my best to try to impress him with good performances. I want to get back to the form I was showing before the European Championships. I know that it didn't ruin my chances, but I certainly didn't win many friends with my displays at EURO 2008. I went into the tournament full of expectation, but then I played poorly and didn't manage to score a single goal. The problem was psychological. I was lacking confidence and was unable to perform as well as I'd hoped. However, in retrospect I have to say that some good came of it as it helped me grow as a person.
Qualification for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa resumes at the end of March with Germany currently unbeaten and leading the way in Group 4. Have you been pleased with the way things are going?
It goes without saying that our aim is to qualify for the World Cup directly. To do so, we have to win our remaining games and hold onto top spot. We know we have the quality to do it, but that's not to say we're unaware of difficult task ahead. The return game in Moscow against Russia in October will be a big test and we need to keep an eye on Finland too. I think there are three teams in the group who are all capable of causing an upset.
South Africa 2010 will be your first FIFA World Cup. What would it mean to you personally to be part of such a great sporting event?
It would be a dream come true. What could possibly be better than playing at the World Cup? I'm not thinking about it at the moment, though, as the tournament itself is still a long way off.
Germany are ahead of nations such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France and England in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. How would you compare the German national team to other international sides?
People can make of that what they will, but the fact is that we came second at the 2002 World Cup, third at the 2006 edition and were runners up at the European Championship last year. So of course we're happy to be ranked so highly.
After coming third at Germany 2006 and second at EURO 2008, surely the sequence suggests that you will win next year's tournament.
That's the plan, yes (laughs).