A Classic Number 10
To watch Mesut Ozil in action is in many ways a throwback to the 80s and early 90s. An era when players like Carlos Valderrama and Gheorghe Hagi lazily strolled around the pitch. A Cruyff turn here, a defence splitting pass there, a two-step run-up followed by a curling free-kick, missing the jumping defender by an inch and nestling the ball into the top corner with the minimum of fuss. Sometimes they did it all without even touching the ball. A languid step-over, a ‘dummy’ through the legs to let the ball roll to a better positioned team-mate.
It’s like wearing the Number 10 shirt was a licence to be creative, a duty to be brilliant and a free pass to not defend. Hard-running is for the full-backs, tough-tackling for the holding midfielder, heading for the centre-backs, they seemed to be saying.
Ozil’s Two-Edged Sword
There are a few problems with this approach. First of all, we’re no longer in the 80s and 90s. Gone are the days when ‘passengers’ were excused the hard work. Just take a look at Liverpool’s Gegenpressing.
The second problem is that in extreme cases you can be excused the absence of hard work when you’re coming up with the goods at the other end. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t track back anymore; he hasn’t for a few years now. But CR7 delivers when it matters. Time and time again. Year after year. When the pressure is on, he’s the man who will make something happen. Whether it’s a Champions League final or as recently as last week, a Nations League semi-final, he seizes the moment and everyone forgets he barely moved for the previous five minutes.
The problem with Ozil is that it just hasn’t been happening at all in ‘his’ third of the pitch for a while now. To the extent that it’s no longer about whether Ozil wants Arsenal but rather whether Arsenal want Ozil.
The Transfer That was Meant to Change Everything
It was all so different when he first signed for Arsenal back in 2010. The Emirates hierarchy, famed for having a policy of never paying over the odds for incoming talent, shelled out in the region of £42 million for him. It made him the most expensive German footballer of all time (he still is) and was meant to signal a shift in Arsenal’s transfer policy.
He came to Arsenal on the back of three highly impressive seasons at Real Madrid. He got 25, 17 and 26 assists respectively in his three years at the Bernabeu, in the league alone. Plus 19 La Liga goals. Not a bad effort for a player who has always been about providing rather than capitalising.
Evidence of how he was perceived at Real Madrid and his importance to the team was summed up by Cristiano Ronaldo, no less.
“He was the player who best knew my moves in front of goal … I’m angry about Özil leaving.”
What’s Gone Wrong?
Since signing for The Gunners back in September 2013, Ozil has had a fine career at Arsenal. In the league alone he’s racked up 58 assists. He became the first-ever player in the history of the Premier League to provide an assist in six consecutive games. For good measure, he got one in the next game as well to make it seven; that’s a record unlikely to be broken anytime soon. He’s also scored 32 league goals.
Yet here we are in the summer of 2019 wondering whether he’ll be at the club come the start of the season. The obvious question is therefore: what went wrong?
Arsenal’s lack of success since he’s been the biggest name at the club certainly hasn’t helped matters. Yes, he and Arsenal won two FA Cups but they’ve been miles off the pace in both the Premier League and Champions League.
More than that though it’s Ozil the person rather than Ozil the footballer that’s created a problem. He’s probably as fit as your average footballer but it’s his reluctance to show that which causes an issue.
When you’re winning games as a team, no-one questions why you weren’t tracking back as the team’s play-maker but when you’re losing them, the inquest begins.
Another curious aspect of his behaviour is that he often looks like he doesn’t care one jot whether he’s on the pitch or not but the minute his number comes up ahead of a substitution, he sulks. It shows he cares, yes. But it’s also a pretty unsubtle show of dissent towards his manager.
It’s proof of a somewhat spiky personality. After Germany’s disastrous World Cup campaign where they went out at the Group Stages as defending champs, he carried the can more than most.
Part of the reason was that he had posed for a photograph alongside controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the photo was interpreted as Ozil supporting Ergan’s policies. Ozil, who is German but of Turkish descent insisted he and Erdogan only talked about football but the criticism kept on coming from fans, the Media and former players. Not one to grin and bear it, Ozil announced his retirement from the German national team with immediate effect.
Good news for Arsenal in terms of reducing his workload but evidence of a tricky character in the dressing room.
Then there are the injuries. It’s very rare that he’s gone a full season without one injury or another and he’s not the sort of player who’s quickly back to his best after a lay-off.
Finally, there’s the question mark about his role. Unai Emery is a perfectionist, a stickler for detail and discipline. Ozil as we’ve seen, is a free spirit. Something has to give.
What Next for Him?
The Marathonbet sports betting odds suggest a title challenge is highly unlikely for Arsenal, in some ways he’s the obvious man to be a role model in an otherwise youthful Arsenal team. In other ways, he’s the face that doesn’t fit in a new era of gym work, energy drinks, tactical discipline and ProZone statistics.
Emery may just have decided he’s seen enough. That if he’s going to build a team based on hard work where each cog needs to function perfectly for the whole machine to work, there’s no room for this maverick of a thoroughbred.
The very unpredictability and irreverence that made him one of Europe’s finest players may prove to be the same characteristics that mean he’s surplus to requirements at the Emirates.
All of which means an exit may be on the cards, not least because of his incredibly high wages. Arsenal could be forgiven for thinking that for one reason or another they haven’t got the full value out of Ozil for the amount that they pay.
Despite his apparent indifference to it all, the former Werder Bremen man loves playing football at the highest level. An early retirement in the MLS, China or Qatar looks unlikely. But then again, this is Ozil, an enigma of a player we’re talking about here. With him, you just never know.