Young, creative, versatile and blessed with outstanding technique, Mario Gotze is one of the poster boys of Germany's new style of football. The 20-year-old regularly demonstrates the ability that promises to make him a star on the global stage with both club side Borussia Dortmund, winners of the last two Bundesliga crowns, and country.
Matthias Sammer once described him as "one of the most talented players the German FA has ever had," while Felix Magath called him "the talent of the century". Arsene Wenger has also added his voice to the chorus of praise. Despite such compliments, the youngster remains grounded with a maturity beyond his years, preferring to let his on-pitch displays do the talking.
Last Friday evening the two-footed midfielder netted his fourth goal in his 21st appearance for the three-time world champions, helping Germany to a 3-0 victory over Kazakhstan in 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying. What is more, he did so operating as an unorthodox 'false nine', rather than in his customary attacking midfield role. FIFA.com chatted with the wunderkind about his development, personal ambitions and dreams of reaching Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: Do you have a favourite position?
Mario Gotze: Playing centrally in attacking midfield, the No10 position, is where I'm best. That's where I've played most for Dortmund recently. I can also play on both wings as well as up front. There isn't really that big a difference, I feel comfortable in every position.
So you are happy to play up front in a system without a recognised striker?
Absolutely. There are even several advantages to playing like that against a deep-lying opponent. We change positions frequently and that creates confusion. We're not as easily marked. High balls are difficult for me to deal with, but that's something I'm willing to overlook for the moment [laughs].
Is the tactical flexibility you have a result of your training at Dortmund's youth academy?
I played in several positions in the youth teams, that was a conscious decision Dortmund made. It's serving me well today.
And is the flexibility of young, creative players who are comfortable in several different positions precisely what sets Germany apart from other national teams nowadays?
There's been a transformation in football in general. Young, technically gifted players force their way into teams, which is a positive development. It's a good thing for every country if they have versatile players in their ranks.
How do you assess your current campaign so far? Given that the second half of last season and UEFA EURO 2012 did not go according to plan, you must have set your sights high...
I'd just recovered from a pelvic injury, I didn't play in the German Cup final and I wasn't fit at the EURO. It was a difficult six months for me so I decided to focus solely on the new season. The most important thing is to be healthy, fit and in peak condition. Those are my priorities.
Given your impressive form this term, things seem to have worked out for you…
I made lots plans after my injury and I wanted to come back stronger than before. Apart from the German Cup, we've done ok as a team so far. On a personal level I'd like to do more - score more goals, get more assists and play more often.
UEFA Champions League performances aside, do you think that Dortmund have been too harshly criticised this season?
I don't think we could actually have played any better in the Champions League. We were eliminated from the cup after losing to Bayern [1-0 in Munich], but that's football. In the Bundesliga we're well on course to qualify for the Champions League again. The fact we're so far off top spot [in second place, 20 points behind Bayern] is annoying, but I have to admit that Bayern have been very good this season while we've dropped too many points.
Is that a topic of conversation between Bayern and Dortmund players within the national team?
[Laughs] There is some banter but it's all light-hearted. The national team comes first when we're all together.
Can you explain why Dortmund are doing so much better in the UEFA Champions League?
Seeing as we didn't exactly set the world alight in Europe in the last couple of seasons, we were all determined to show we could compete and progress this time, especially in the group we had [with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax]. That was our goal and that's what motivated us.
Dortmund's director of sport Michael Zorc would like to tie you to the club until you reach 35. What are your future plans?
I'm keeping my options open. Clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United are attractive, and playing in another top league would shape me and help me develop as a player. But I'm not thinking that far ahead at the moment. I'm happy in Germany and am delighted with the way things are going. Anything else is still a long way off.
Germany's last major international title came at EURO 1996 under coach Berti Vogts, who recently stated that Germany are favourites to win Brazil 2014. Do you agree?
The tournament is still a year away, which is why it's a good idea for us to just take each game as it comes. We need to qualify for the finals first. However, we know we're a good team and we have big ambitions. If we go to a tournament, we want to win it.
Having played at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, Brazil 2014 would be your second FIFA tournament. To what extent did your experience there shape you and help you improve?
It was a very important experience. Just before it we played the U-17 European Championship on home turf. It was the first time we saw ourselves on TV and the first time we had contact with the media. That shaped me and it was definitely something special. It was my first chance to play against teams like Argentina and Brazil, who I'd only ever seen on television before. Tournaments like that give young players the chance to get international experience early on and I think that's very important at such a young age.
Is travelling to other countries and sampling foreign cultures part of the appeal of becoming a professional footballer?
Of course, it's part and parcel of it. We had several foreign players in our youth teams and that helped us experience different cultures. It was good fun.
Looking ahead to Brazil 2014, what kind of emotions would playing there stir up?
It's what you dream of as a player. It's a huge tournament and the fact that's taking place in such a football-crazy country as Brazil makes all the more attractive.