MESUT ÖZIL: AS REMEMBERED BY THE MADRIDISTAS
In this epoch of no live sports, we at More Than A Game couldn’t resist looking back on the days when Mesut Özil was on a mission to tear up La Liga under José’s gaze. Lung bursting runs, fierce challenges or tracking back as if your life depends in it is what usually is attributed to midfielders plying their art under a manager famed for his devotion to discipline, José Mourinho. Özil, one the other hand might not the be the first player to pop up in one’s footballing brain when adjectives like these are thrown around. Despite not fitting under the archetype of the traditional Mourinho midfielder, the-then 21-year-old German with long hair tucked behind with a headband was a key figure in the Portuguese’s stint in the Spanish capital.
Mou’s third season syndrome which made a mess at Real Madrid, where if there was a prize for how much dirty laundry could be aired in public, Los Blancos would have run away with it as undisputed winners clearly robbed the German world champion of the credit he deserves for putting up terrific numbers in the La Liga and the Champions League alike. Blessed with an unforeseen ability to break lines of defences with that one slick through ball, paired with a knack for popping up into free spaces, Özil boasted of a rare talent and oozed finesse, qualities that many possessed, but the former Werder Bremen operator’s own spin on things made him levels above the rest. The wide-eyed creator elevated his game from that of an up-and-coming starlet to a bona fide world-class playmaker. Make no mistake, in no way has Özil’s time at Arsenal been a disaster. However, three FA Cups and a Community Shield is far from a trophy haul to force you into buying a new cabinet, but it isn’t not too shabby either.
But when you turn back the clocks and look at his time with Real or even dive deep into the numbers if you’re a stats man, you have to wonder whether his time at the very pinnacle of football would have lasted longer if he had donned the royal white strip for a few more kicks of the ball.
Brought in from Werder Bremen for €20m, what now looks like a bargain, Özil was a sensation in German football with the world at his feet. The 21-year old was riding high after a stellar World Cup campaign in 2010, which had big dogs like Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester United knocking on the doors of the Northwestern German club. Real Madrid’s new man at the helm, José Mourinho had to fight out his eternal nemesis from the other side of Spain, Pep Guardiola for the magisterial Mesut’s signature, and the man from Portugal did get what he desired.
It didn’t take long for Özil to start impacting games and soon after, deciding them. One can dig up old footage of the midfield maestro effortlessly galloping into the final third, providing stunning assists every other second, proving why the Spanish game suited him to a tee. The news of him being shipped off to England was not taken well in the dressing room to say the least. Such was his influence on fellow Madridistas, even the biggest of them all, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo was not impressed at all by his departure and revealed his frustration without mincing his words.
“The sale of Özil is very bad news for me. He was the player who knew my moves in front of goal. I’m angry about Özil leaving.”
One can’t blame Ronaldo for feeling hard done by the higher-ups at the club as Özil’s performances in the famous white shirt were of such a dizzyingly high quality that it made perfect sense to be down in the dumps about the German’s exit. After all, the duo had struck up a partnership from day one and looked like they had a near-telepathic link, assisting a total of 34 goals to each other in three seasons. It surely makes one wonder if Ronaldo’s heroics at Madrid could have been even more spectacular if Arsenal didn’t come swooping in for his partner in crime.
The man always seems to play the game in slow motion and that allows him to take that extra second to spot the attacker’s runs, before inevitably weighing the crucial pass to absolute perfection.
Mesut Özil, gliding through the midfield with runners like Di Maria and Ronaldo running ahead of him, racked up 24 assists in his first ever season at the Santiago Bernabéu. This tally still sits at the top of his season charts, even a decade later, a testament to his phenomenal form for Los Merengues. The following season, grabbing the celebrated No. 10 shirt with both hands, Özil produced his second highest tally of assists in a season, dishing out 20 assists. For the second season running, the German international came out of the season as the highest assist provider in the Spanish top-flight. In short, Mesut was an attacker’s dream and a man marker’s nightmare when in full flow. The third season, however, was mired by controversies at Real as the man with all the answers showed patches of inconsistency in the 2012/13 campaign. He got off to a slow start and soon found himself in and out of Mourinho’s XI. The second half of the season saw things improve (on the pitch, at least) and Özil ended up creating the most clear-cut chances of any player in Europe’s top five leagues. As a result, his departure was bizarre to witness, considering the scale of the impact he had made on Spanish shores and Özil himself was left heartbroken when he knew he had to pack his bags.
“Leaving Real Madrid was the hardest decision of my life- it’s no secret, my heart beats for Real Madrid. I dreamed of winning the Champions League with Real.”
If asked about what his finest achievement, the German creator answer would very likely be the World Cup triumph in 2014, but there is absolutely no denying that the world has have never seen a more committed and consistent Özil than the one that played under Mourinho. Mesut Özil in the white No. 10 shirt, with his hair held back, standing in the centre of the pitch, head down and in prayer will always be one of the most iconic images of our times.