Footballers can be a superstitious bunch.
Legendary Argentine coach Carlos Bilardo banned his players from eating chicken before big games, claiming that doing so would bring bad luck. Johan Cruyff insisted on spitting a piece of chewing gum onto the opponents’ half of the pitch, believing good fortune would come his way.
A year after he became the Bundesliga’s most expensive ever player, Mario Gomez needed all the good luck he could get. Bayern Munich were having their worst start to a Bundesliga campaign and Gomez had gone eight months without a goal.
Then the burly striker saw TV pictures of 33 trapped Chilean miners being rescued. When the Bavarians’ number 33 was told that the oldest Chilean miner was called Mario Gomez, the striker became convinced good times were on the way.
Gomez had a hunch that he would score a goal if he was picked to play against Hannover on 16 October. The striker was wrong: he banged in a hat-trick.
Since then, Super Mario’s goalscoring has been of van Basten-like proportions. Gomez has 15 Bundesliga goals this season, despite only 12 starts, making him the joint top scorer in Germany. His haul of 22 goals in 18 games, including hat-tricks against Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern, puts him among European football’s most prolific hit men.
Gomez was at it again on Wednesday, opening the scoring as Bayern reached the semi-finals of the German Cup with a 4-0 hammering of Aachen. Hapless Bremen have the Bundesliga’s second worst defence and must be worried with Gomez and Co. visiting this weekend, a match you can catch this Saturday on Eurosport 2 in north and east Europe.
What’s all the more remarkable about Gomez’s rise to form is that he was at rock bottom before events in Chile came to his attention. The German press had never forgiven Gomez for some embarrassing misses against Austria in a crucial Euro 2008 match and cruelly dubbed him ”Der Chancentod.” The chance misser.
Bayern coach Louis van Gaal acidly insisted that had it been his choice, Gomez would never have pulled on the red and white shirt of Bayern.
Gomez had become a figure of ridicule. His habit of impersonating a matador after each, rare, goal (Gomez’s father is Spanish) made some Bayern fans cringe. When Bayern legend and Honourary President Franz Beckenbauer told journalists ”Gomez seems to have lost the mobility from his Stuttgart days,” the player must have thought his days in Munich were numbered. Indeed, Bayern were within a whisker of offloading him to Liverpool in the summer.
Gomez and his family closed ranks, avoiding the press and Munich glamour spots. And when first choice strikers Ivica Olic and Miroslav Klose were both injured, he grabbed his chance.
Since October, Chile’s miners have enjoyed global fame. Senor Gomez, whose scribbled note announced to the world that the miners were safe, is probably unaware of his impact on Bayern’s record signing.
But if Gomez keeps knocking in the goals, he might yet save Bayern’s season from going down a black hole.
This weekend’s Eurosport 2 Bundesliga coverage kicks off on Friday with a clash between the teams in second and third in the table, Leverkusen and Hannover (20:30). Our lives games on Saturday see runaway leaders Dortmund travel to Wolfsburg (15:30) and Kaiserslautern v Mainz (19:30). You can see extended highlights of Bremen v Bayern Munich (17:30). On Sunday, catch Stuttgart v Freiburg (15:30) and Frankfurt v Monchengladbach (17:30).