IN THE aftermath of the World Cup final, Mario Götze celebrated his extra-time winner against Argentina with a tribute to his absent friend.
As the party gathered momentum, the Bayern Munich player turned to the cameras and unfolded a Germany shirt with “Reus” on its shoulders and “21” on its back.
Marco Reus missed the World Cup finals after tearing ankle ligaments in Germany’s final warm-up game, a 6-1 thrashing of Armenia in Mainz. He missed the chance to go down in history with Franz Beckenbauer, Jürgen Klinsmann and the other legends who have led their country to four World Cup triumphs. And he missed the opportunity to do so alongside Götze, his former Borussia Dortmund team-mate.
Tonight, in Germany’s first competitive match since that glorious night in Rio, Reus will resume his relationship with the national side and with the inspirational Götze. Together, they hope to help their country start the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in the same peerless fashion that it conquered the planet, most thrillingly with that 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semi-final.
For Joachim Löw, it is a welcome development. This is an awkward time for the Germany manager, not just because his team have the highest possible expectations to fulfil, but because his team are diminished by the retirements of Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, as well as injuries to Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mats Hummels and Mesut Ozil.
The return of Reus goes some way to compensating for those multiple losses. The 25-year-old Borussia Dortmund player was born and brought up in the city, which will host tonight’s match. A star of Germany’s World Cup qualifying campaign, he has 22 caps, a number of even bigger clubs queuing up to sign him and all the tools to light up the Westfalenstadion.
In particular, the way he combines with Götze, also a product of Dortmund’s youth academy, gives Germany another dimension. The two have a chemistry – or as one magazine put it, “a blind understanding” – that enables them to anticipate each other’s moves, especially going forward.
By christening them “Götzeus”, Dortmund fans united them as one. Beckenbauer once suggested that there was not another pairing like it in the world. Instinctively, they make goals, score them and very often celebrate them by turning their backs on each other and clashing, NBA-style.
Götze is three years younger than his team-mate. He spent five years at Borussia Dortmund before leaving last summer to join Bayern Munich, their opponents in the 2013 Champions League final. He is one of several elusive, flexible and therefore unpredictable players who make Germany such a difficult team to defend against.
Reus, who can play right, left or through the middle, falls into the same category, although his career has been a slow-burner by comparison. It has been a while since he was a boy, going to the Dortmund games with Kevin Grossreutz, the full-back who will also line up against Scotland this evening. Together, they were part of the famous Yellow Wall, a terrace behind the goal that gives the Westfalenstadion its unique atmosphere. His hero at the time was Tomas Rosicky, who swapped Dortmund for Arsenal in 2006. To this day, he wears sweatbands in honour of the Czech playmaker.
Reus came through the youth system at Dortmund, but was regarded as too fragile to threaten the first team. At 16, he joined Rot Weiss Ahlen, where he played in Germany’s third division before a move to Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he was able to make a name for himself. German tabloid Bild called him Rolls Reus. In an interview, they described him as low-maintenance, grounded and without a whiff of scandal, partying or showmanship. “I have the best job in the world,” he told them. “Maybe some people don’t realise that and let themselves be adversely influenced. That’s just not my style.” The paper added that, if Reus were left on a desert island, he would require only a ball and his mobile phone.
In his best season at Mönchengladbach, he was given a more advanced role, which produced a glut of goals, rave reviews and, eventually, a return to his spiritual home. Back in Dortmund after a €17 million move at the start of 2012, he replaced Manchester United-bound Shinji Kagawa on the left. Quick and technically brilliant, he opened the scoring in Champions League games away to Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax and helped his team reach the final, where they lost to Bayern Munich.
The 2012 German Footballer of the Year was no less effective in Europe the following season. After his team topped a group that also included Arsenal, Napoli and Marseille, vultures from further afield began circling. Two goals in a semi-final defeat by Real Madrid persuaded the Spanish giants to monitor closely his progress.
According to reports in Spain, Madrid have struck a deal with Dortmund, albeit only one that keeps them informed of any attempts to buy Reus. Although his five-year deal does not expire until 2017, a £20m release clause in his contract will make him available next summer. Dortmund were furious when Karl Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern Munich chairman, revealed that to the media. Bayern had already exploited such a clause to lure Götze from Dortmund. They also took Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, after a year-long pursuit.
Reus is likely to be one of the biggest targets in next summer’s transfer window. Arsenal, who have already made inquiries, are expected to act on their manager’s longstanding admiration for the player. Manchester United are also credited with an interest. Both are likely to come up short if Real Madrid decide that he is good enough for the Bernabeu.
In the meantime, the man they call Woody – as in Woodpecker – is chipping away at his next targets. He would doubtless like to finish his Dortmund career with a flourish, while also helping his country to embark on a period of global domination. Their plan is to emulate Spain by following a World Cup triumph with success in the European Championships.
Reus has started the season well, scoring against Augsburg last weekend and playing all 90 minutes of his country’s 4-2 defeat by Argentina in midweek. It wasn’t the most auspicious return to action for Germany, but Reus insisted later that they were strong enough to handle what looks like being a transitional period. “Three players are no longer there [for us], Bastian Schweinsteiger is injured but we are still a great team with many good young players.”
Apart from his immediate injury worries, Löw has long-term problems to solve, especially in defence, but in attack, he has the same old embarrassment of riches. Among them is Reus, once a precocious young talent, now a senior figure in Germany’s new era.
“I’ve got a lot of games for Germany under my belt now and started a lot of matches recently,” said Reus. “I just try to carry on improving and, sooner or later, there comes a point where you have to take that responsibility on. I’ve had to do that at Dortmund and I’m sure I can do it for Germany too.”