It was never meant to end like this. Now that Mario Gomez’s protracted transfer to Besiktas is complete, the big German’s time in Florence is almost definitely over. Mooted as one of the jewels in the crown of 2013's sudden swathe of spending, the striker’s arrival in Italy was projected to be the finishing touch to a team on the cusp of trophies and cemented higher status. But it was never meant to be.
Run the Jewels
Fiorentina had been steadily assembling a team that could really challenge. Under Vincenzo Montella, la Viola were in the midst of a mini-renaissance, and the sale of fan-favorite Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City meant that the club had money to burn. Already challenging age-old adages about Spanish players in Serie A, Montella’s pass-and-move possession strategy was crying out for a final, lethal touch.
During the 2011-12 season, Mario Gomez had been one of Europe’s top scorers, reaching a career-high 41 goals. After successive Champions League finals under Louis van Gaal and Jupp Heynckes, Bayern Munich had just sealed a historic treble. Though he had lost his starting place to Mario Mandžukić, Gomez still managed 19 goals in 31 appearances. To secure a striker of this pedigree for a shade over €15 million seemed an absolute steal.
The Right Moment
Back in Serie A, the stars seemed to be aligning. The political fallout of the late Berlusconi years had left Milan with little money to invest in an aging squad. Civil war in Libya was drying up the funding for Inter. Roma were struggling under successive managers. If ever there was a time to invest, this was it.
After years of selling their best players and standing on the outside looking in, Fiorentina had an opportunity to sign a genuine superstar. With his fighter pilot’s haircut and already-established internet meme, the fans felt like they were on the cusp of something special. They were finally getting everything they had wanted.
Mario Gomez was set to form a strike partnership with the Italian international Giuseppe Rossi. Backed up by a midfield of Borja Valero, David Pizarro, Juan Cuadrado, and Joaquin, the team had the ability to serve up chance after chance.
Hell Is Just A Frame of Mind
But in the coming years, Gomez and Rossi only managed to play together for 214 minutes. During this time, they scored five goals between them. While both struggled again with injuries, Gomez was also finding it difficult to adjust to the league.
Away from the blood-and-thunder hustle of the Bundesliga, Gomez couldn't seem to get in the right place at the right time. Once he functioned as the final piece in a well-oiled Bayern Munich machine that guaranteed droves of chances and goals followed; nearly any competent striker could notch a couple goals for that Bayern side, in the same way that an infinite number of monkeys working on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually write the 3rd season of Lost.
But in Florence - like the end of Lost’s 3rd season - the present and the past were heaving up against one another in a confusing dry hump. While never really a complete center forward, Gomez was struggling to recapture any kind of form, let alone the one that had made him one of Europe's top number 9's.
Even the bread-and-butter tap-ins of old eluded the big German when they were presented to him. Despite apparently training with his teammates, he was almost never on the same page as them when it came to which post he would expect a cross to. And winning an aerial duel in midfield? By the spring he appeared to have completely lost the ability to do so.
The shine of the international striker really started to dull at the end of this past fall, after he had been at more or less full fitness for half a season. For a fan base that was once blessed to watch the panther-like traction engine - yes, a piece of heavy machinery that has feline qualities - that was Gabriel Batistuta, Gomez was half a world away.
A Quiet Departure
It’s not uncommon for fans to turn on a player. Occasionally, across the world, under-performing footballers will be forced to face the bellows and boos as they walk from the pitch after an hour, having failed to make an impact. But it was never like that with Mario. For Marione there was always just pity.
Here was a limited player who – for a long spell in Germany, both at Stuttgart and Bayern Munich – managed to make the most of his abilities. In Florence, he would try hard and he would fail. And he would try harder. And he’d fail again. Between bad luck, injuries, and some purely shocking misses, Mario’s Fiorentina adventure was exasperating for everyone involved.
For the past two months, rumors of Mario’s exit have rattled around the Artemio Franchi to much indifference. While 20,000 people were at the stadium to greet his arrival, his departure was announced in the early hours of the morning to a collective shrug. While his arrival created genuine excitement, his departure has people talking about freeing up wages. Gomez has gone from the promise of buckets of goals and trophies, to a renewed resignation to finding a better balance of the books.
Now off to Turkey, few will mourn the departure of one of the club’s most expensive signings. Obviously Fiorentina will face Beskitas in the Europa League and obviously Gomez will score a hat-trick, because this is the way the world works. But the indifference to the departure in Florence – and the ushering towards the door encouraged by many fans – speaks volumes about the German’s time in Italy.
The Tragedy of Mario Gomez
Mario Gomez was meant to be the answer. He was the final piece to the Montella puzzle, that little sprinkling of star dust to take the club up to the next level. But while we had glimpses of Gomez’s potential – especially when combining with Rossi in those first few games – he never managed to find an even marginally consistent functioning role with this team. If the best strikers make the game look like precision engineering, Mario was thwacking a hammer against his thumb time and time again.
Now, after a terrible transfer window and a Serie A spending spree escalating elsewhere, it might be that the fleeting moment to make the final push has already passed. With the race for places in any kind of European competition tighter than ever, Fiorentina may regret not capitalizing on their position over the last two years.
But that "move up" was exactly what Mario Gomez was supposed to facilitate. After the fans cried out to the ownership for years to make a big signing and signal "winning intent," the unexpected tragedy of Mario Gomez was he was exactly that signing, but only on paper. With 14 goals spread across two seasons, Gomez eventually cost the club about €1 million per goal. Perhaps the tragedy of big Mario was him coming at all.