Football legend Franz Beckenbauer has hailed rising star Mario Gotze as Germany's equivalent of Argentina's Lionel Messi ahead of the Germans friendly against South American giants Brazil on Wednesday.
Gotze was lavished with praise over the weekend here after playing a commanding role in Borussia Dortmund's impressive 3-1 win over Hamburg on Friday as they opened their defence of the Bundesliga title. Having set up team-mate Kevin Grosskreutz for the first goal, Gotze added the second with a deft chip and caused the Hamburg defence constant problems.
He is in the Germany squad to face Brazil in a friendly and arrived at the team hotel in Stuttgart on Sunday as the hot topic here. The sport section Bild carried the eye-catching headline 'Goetzlich' (a play on words meaning 'Divine' in German) and Beckenbauer raved about the prodigal talent in his column in the German daily newspaper.
"It is not possible to stop Mario Gotze," enthused Beckenbauer, who captained and coached the then West Germany to World Cup titles in 1974 and 1990 respectively. "There is no one playing better than him. He runs through opponents as though they aren't there. He has the same assets as Lionel Messi in terms of his technique and understanding of the game. He is an instinctive footballer - just like Messi."
Gotze, who won the first of his six caps against Sweden in a friendly last November, was taking the praise in his stride. Like Messi, Gotze made his international debut at the age of 18. "Of course, it is a great honour to get such praise," said the teenager who only turned 19 in June. But the (Dortmund) team's performance is what matters, not my own."
But Beckenbauer is not the only senior figure in German football impressed with Gotze. "An outstanding performance" was how national coach Joachim Loew described what he saw, while team manager Oliver Bierhoff lauded Gotze's "absolutely exceptional talent".
Gotze admits his life has changed substantially over the last 12 months as the son of a university professor is now recognised as one of the stars of the Bundesliga in football-mad Germany. "Sometimes it sucks when you just want peace and quiet to do something normal like go to the cinema," he told Die Welt. "People just see me as a footballer and want to ask about it. I have learned that I can no longer just do anything I want to."
With Dortmund having qualified for the UEFA Champions League, Gotze could see his dream to face Barcelona's Messi on the pitch realised this season. "It is a special attraction for any player to play against Messi," said Gotze.
But for his Dortmund team-mates, there is a special attraction to play alongside the German. "We call him 'Goetzinho'," admitted Dortmund midfielder Sven Bender, who is also in the Germany squad to face Brazil. "He raises the standard of those around him, he controls the ball as though he has a magnet in his boot."