Rewind 12 months and Leon Goretzka was at the top of every manager’s Christmas wishlist.
The metronome midfielder left Schalke on a free transfer when his contract expired in the summer and followed the tradition of the Bundesliga’s best by falling into the clutches of Bayern Munich.
Tipped as the final piece in the jigsaw for the perennial German champions, it was anticipated that Goretzka’s game would reach new heights in Bavaria.
In reality, it’s been nothing of the sort.
The midfielder’s arrival has coincided with the 28-time Bundesliga champions enduring a season of mixed results, in which they’ve often found themselves battling with Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.
Earlier in the campaign – when Bayern were some nine-points adrift of Dortmund- Goretzka described his experience at the club as “surreal” and even went as far to compare it to “a bad movie.”
He’s been part of an ensemble cast in one of Europe’s biggest horror shows.
Bayern have often looked a side void of a plan under new head coach Niko Kovac – with his tactical approach a far cry from the astute work that took place under Pep Guardiola and in the multiple Jupp Heynckes eras.
The Croatian has too often favoured relying on the individual brilliance of the stars at his disposal to carry the side but there’s only so much stardust that can be sprinkled.
Goretzka included has been part of a core of players who are struggling for form in a side longing for a new identity.
The signing of the former Bundesliga Team of the Season midfielder was a questionable one in itself with Die Roten already possessing a battalion of midfielders all competing for limited starting berths upon his arrival.
Goretzka was greeted by Corentin Tolisso, Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, James Rodriguez and Renato Sanches as the midfielders vying for the three central roles in Kovac’s favoured 4-1-4-1 system.
When not warming the bench, the German has often been called upon to plug the gaps left by injuries and suspensions.
As a result, he’s struggled to stamp down a regular starting place in the team.
This much was evident on Wednesday night, when Bayern’s Champions League campaign came to an end with their round of 16 defeat to Liverpool – with Goretzka coming off the bench with 20 minutes to go and his side desperately chasing the game.
At times this season, the 24-year-old has been deployed as an emergency wide man on both the right and left wings, as well as filling in at left-back in the absence of David Alaba. Hardly a like-for-like replacement.
The widely speculated unrest with Kovac over the festive period was made public after Goretzka refused to deny rumours of dressing room spats between the players and their under fire boss.
Restricted game time has apparently led the former Schalke man to form part of a frustrated group – which includes Rodriguez, Serge Gnabry and Niklas Sule as the names who are all unhappy under the current regime.
Injuries have also played their part in Goretzka’s struggles with an ongoing ankle problem preventing him from building up a consistent run in the starting XI.
Where does his stop-start season go from here?
The good news is that there’s likely still a place at Bayern for Goretzka next season, especially with the likes of Franck Ribery, Javi Martinez and James looking past their best.
Even if Bayern do succeed in securing the Bundesliga crown for another year, this is very much a side in the midst of a transition.
Young and established talents such as Goretzka, Sanches, Niklas Sule and Joshua Kimmich are considered the future of the club, but will Bayern stick with the promising midfielder or cash in for a hefty profit?