Mario Gomez is in the form of his life right now. Leading scorer in both the German Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League, where he is level at the top of the charts with Lionel Messi, Gomez also ended the 2011 international programme with seven goals for his country, more than any other Germany player.
By way of icing on the cake, the 26-year-old striker with Spanish roots wore the captain's armband for his country for the first time just a few weeks ago, in what was his 50th appearance on the international stage. It is little surprise that Gomez, who joined Bayern Munich from Stuttgart in 2009 for a record fee of more than €30 million, has seen his stock soar both in the domestic league and on the biggest footballing stage.
FIFA.com asked the player about the German national team, next summer's UEFA EURO 2012, and his personal goals with Munich.
FIFA.com: Mario, is there any way things could be going even better for you personally at the moment?
Mario Gomez: Things can always go better. It's definitely a good time for me both for my club and the national team, but as I've said often enough, at the end of the day it means nothing for me or my teams unless we win trophies. Both with Bayern and the national side, we have an opportunity to be successful and win trophies, and that's the target. But it's no good playing brilliantly in October and November, and me scoring plenty of goals, but ending up down in the mouth in May and June because we don't win any trophies.
When Germany played Ukraine, you captained the team for the first time. Was it a special honour?
I wouldn't read too much into it. A large number of experienced and established players weren't in the team that day, including players who have done an outstanding job as captain, such as Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. That said, it's a reward and a recognition, and obviously I was very proud. Not many players lead their national team out onto the field, especially not in football, because most captains keep the armband for years. So it was a great day for me, but nothing more than that.
In that match, you were the oldest player in the Germany starting line-up at the age of 26. Does that make you a veteran?
I only realised when I was signing off the match report. I checked the team list and noticed that the next oldest player was born in 1987. You have to say it's remarkable, but it's the reason why a bright future beckons for Germany. We have players who are so young, but already good enough for the international stage.
How would you summarise the year 2011 for Germany?
I think it's been a very successful year. It's some feat to win all ten of your European Championship qualifiers. For me personally, I'm in a totally different situation compared to a year or two ago. I believe I'm a genuine option for the national coach nowadays. Whether I play or not is his decision, and he's spoilt for choice. As for me, I always try and do the very best I can, and the coach decides what's best for the team.
Respected coach Ottmar Hitzfeld made an interesting statement this week: “Gomez is as important to Bayern as Messi to Barcelona." What do you make of that?
He's flattering me, of course. No current player stands comparison with Messi. He’s unique, and comfortably the best player in the world. I'm aware that Ottmar Hitzfeld isn't just any old commentator, he's a celebrated and successful coach, so I'm certainly proud if that’s what he said. Not as much about being compared to Messi, who’s a completely different type of player, but because of the significance of the statement. Personally, I’d never compare myself to him, but I’m aware of my strengths, and I know I have plenty of goals in me, now and in the future.
UEFA EURO 2012 takes place next summer. Would anything less than the trophy be a disappointment?
No, it also depends on the football you play, and whether it’s attractive or not. That is very important to our coach. He doesn’t want us sneaking into the final. We have enough quality to be contenders for the trophy, but there’s such a lot more to it than that: form on the day, luck, and all the usual factors. Germany are traditionally a good tournament team, so I’d say the omens are good and we have a chance of competing for the trophy in 2012.
One of your biggest rivals will unquestionably be Spain. You have Spanish roots, so would a goal and a victory over Spain be something special?
No, something special for me would be winning the European Championship or World Cup. I don't care who we beat on the way.
In past interviews, you were quick to praise the Spanish league. The latest rumours are that you're favourably inclined towards a contract extension with Bayern. Have you put your dream of playing in Spain on ice?
There's nothing new to report. I'm delighted to be in Munich, where I’m part of a magnificent team. This ‘dream’ which keeps being brought up and written about was something I said when I was 18, because half my family come from Spain, so it definitely was a childhood dream to play close to or in my grandparents’ and father's home country. But nowadays I'm at a magnificent club, one of the best in the world. Provided I'm still wanted in Munich, there's no reason I should play anywhere else. Obviously, I'm aware that the clock is ticking, and that you’re only selected based on performance. There's always huge pressure on the strikers at Bayern, and you have to deliver. But to repeat: for as long as I'm needed, I have no intention of leaving.
At EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ you were Miroslav Klose’s understudy. Will EURO 2012 be your first real tournament?
That's not entirely true. I was a full and active member of the team at EURO 2008, but I messed up against Austria, and I had a long and difficult period in the national team after that. It took me one-and-a-half to two years to get over it mentally, before I felt at ease when I pulled on a Germany shirt. But I’ve put that all behind me now, so I'm looking forward to the tournament. Obviously, my goal is to play every match, but as I said, I can only do my best, and then it's down to the coach.
The German media constantly debates whether you can play alongside Klose. Can you?
It's the boss's decision. We've used our current formation, 4–5–1 or 4–3–3, for the last two or three years, and I'm assuming that won’t change very much. Our basic formation will stay as it is, but to remain flexible for the future, we also need to master 4–4–2, so it's something we'll practice. Only the coach can decide whether we then go on and use it.
Do you follow how Klose is getting on with Lazio in Rome? Are you in touch with him?
We've stayed in touch, of course, and I do follow what happens in Italy. I'm delighted for him. It wasn't easy for him at Bayern, so it's wonderful for him now, because I know how important goals are for a striker. And I think he still has a vital role to play, both for his club and his country. Nevertheless, I'm less inclined to watch what others are doing and more to play to my own strengths. I've always taken note of how other players score the goals - not because I want to copy them, but because I like watching.
Is it positive to be playing together with a number of Germany stars at club level, where Bayern resemble a sort of FC Germany?
We enjoy it, and you’re constantly reminded of how much quality there is in Germany right now. If the club is in a position to acquire top internationals but still keeps bringing on young German players, it tells you that the quality is very high. It shows you can be successful with this blend. We're all still young and hungry for success, and we're aiming very high. That's why I believe there’s a great future ahead for both Bayern and Germany.
Apart from the EURO, next year brings another highlight event, the UEFA Champions League final at Munich's Allianz Arena. So here's the big question: would you rather win the European Championship, or the 2012 Champions League at your home ground?
[Laughs] If I really have to choose, I'd say both.