By Salawudeen Olawale
VfL Wolfsburg’s hopes of staying in the Bundesliga rest on the broad shoulders of Mario Gomez, with the striker re-discovering his form under new coach Andries Jonker.
The tall 31-year-old won back a starting spot and scored twice in Jonker’s two matches in charge after being benched by predecessor Valerien Ismael.
Wolfsburg is currently 14th on 26 points, level with Hamburg SV, who are at the relegation playoff spot in 16th.
The 2009 German champions had expected to challenge for silverware this season with a number of transfers in the summer, including Gomez.
However, when they take on bottom-placed Darmstadt 98 on Saturday they know it will be a relegation battle.
When Dutchman Jonker was briefly interim coach at Bayern Munich towards the end of the 2010-11 season for five matches, former Bundesliga top scorer Gomez grabbed a total of nine goals.
Another two have been added under Jonker this season as Gomez, who has scored eight league goals in total, eyes what is likely to be his final tournament with Germany – the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“I may be experiencing a difficult season at Wolfsburg but I know I am still as good as I was in the summer (when I arrived),” Gomez said.
His future at the club is unclear despite a contract to 2019 with an exit clause that allows him to leave if Wolfsburg fail to secure a European spot.
He has turned down international offers, including a lucrative Chinese deal, to remain in contention for a Germany spot next year.
“The figures you read are really crazy,” Gomez said of the Chinese offer.
“When you get an offer – and without going into the details of the sum – then you ask yourself ‘is this really serious or is there some writing error.”
Darmstadt look set to be relegated, having managed just 15 points in 24 matches but a surprise victory over Mainz 05 last week fanned the dying embers of hope, with coach Torsten Frings refusing to give up.
“No one here is giving up,” Frings said. “In the coming games we will give it everything we have to win.”
Leaders Bayern Munich, cruising to a record-extending fifth consecutive league title with a 10-point advantage, travel to Borussia Moenchengladbach. Second-placed RB Leipzig take on Werder Bremen.