Transfer deadline day may have been hijacked by Gareth’s Bale high profile move to Real Madrid but the biggest surprise of all came when the Spanish giants offloaded star playmaker Mesut Özil to Arsenal. Özil’s 50 million Euro move to the Emirates makes him the most expensive German footballer of all time and may well put the Gunners into contention again, both domestically and in Europe.
Background and Pedigree
Özil was already picked out as a prodigious talent at a very young age. Not the biggest amongst his peers but his control and ability on the ball was quickly noticed by scouts and coaches. Sure enough, there was something special about young Mesut. He grew up playing for various clubs in the Gelsenkirchen area before moving to Rot-Weiss Essen where he developed for five years. In 2005 he made the big jump to Schalke where he quickly made an impression at the youth levels, winning the national championship in 2006 and being called up to the senior team the following season.
He made 19 appearances in the 2006/07 season, beginning to show glimpses of his massive potential. The following year his stock at the club rose even further, participating also in the team’s Champions League campaign. However, disagreements between Özil’s father, who also happens to be his agent, and the club led them to decide not to renew his contract and a move to Werder Bremen was facilitated in January of 2008, also on the last day of the transfer period no less. Özil was on his way to truly break out.
In his first full season with Bremen, supported by a coach who encouraged his creativity and expression and surrounded by a team that optimized it, Özil went from a youngster with potential to one of the league’s best players. He became the team’s key playmaker and top assists provider (24 in all competitions for Bremen) and was a big part in one of the team’s most successful seasons. With him Bremen reached the German Cup final where he scored the winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen. In Europe Bremen made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final, losing to Shakhtar at the end.
In the meantime, Özil’s international performances began to truly take off. That summer Özil and Germany won the U-21 European Championships where he scored in the final against England and was the team’s key playmaker. Löw noticed and quickly began integrating him into the senior team ahead of the World Cup the following summer. And although Bremen’s 2009/10 season wasn’t as successful as the year before Özil continued to shine and became arguably the best player in the Bundesliga. He assisted 33 goals in all competitions. So convincing was Özil that Löw immediately made him the center piece of the national team.
The world got their first full glimpse of Özil in South Africa in 2010 where his and Germany’s brilliant performances lit up the World Cup. Germany played arguably the most exciting football that summer and Özil’s graceful play and ingenuity became symbolic of a new brand of German football. It also opened the eyes of a certain Real Madrid who swooped in for a player that became too big for the Bundesliga in a matter of months. For a measly 15m Euros Madrid got themselves a bargain.
Özil picked up right where he left off in Germany and finished as the second highest assist provider in the league behind Messi. He made the playmaker spot his own with competition like Kaka and Angel Di Maria and was crucial in Madrid’s Cup-winning run that season. The following year Özil was even more productive. He finished the year as the league’st most prolific provider and a significant part of Madrid’s record 121 goals and 100 point season. As with Bremen, his last full season for Madrid wasn’t as successful but Özil still managed to be one of the team’s best performers. He played 159 competitive games for the club, scoring 27 goals.
As far as creating chances for teammates and setting up goals, few players in the game are as prolific as Özil. In fact, no other player has assisted as many goals as he has in the top European leagues in the last five years. No other player in Europe has created as many chances in Europe since 2008 than Özil. In his three years with Madrid he contributed to over a 100 goals for the club. Sure enough, those comparisons to Zinedine Zidane are not far off.
Those Zidane comparisons also came because Özil not only graceful with his touch on the ball and his vision but because he optimizes the performance of those around him. Case in point: Cristiano Ronaldo. Few players had the kind of understanding and chemistry Özil and Ronaldo had at Madrid. It would not be a stretch to say that a significant part of Ronaldo’s output was down to his and Özil’s connection on the field. Sure enough, Ronaldo lamented his departure, saying that nobody knew his movements in front of goal better than Özil.
The numbers bear it out quite impressively as well. Özil assisted 29 of Ronaldo’s goals directly, making him by far his most prolific provider in his career. In Spain, Özil averaged an assist just about every 139 minutes, an incredible statistic considering few players even break the 10 assist mark in a season. And even that is often considered a great accomplishment. Sergio Ramos said it right, “Özil is the king of assists.”
To give further perspective. In Özil’s first 100 games for Real Madrid he managed 54 assists. In the same number of games, Zidane only had 18. To this day he has an astonishing 165 assists at the senior level since 2006.
Perfect fit for Arsenal
If there is one player that fits Arsenal’s playing style. If there is one footballer that epitomizes what Arsenal have come to be known for in the last two decades. If there is one name in today’s game that best sums up Arsene Wenger’s philosophy, it’s Mesut Özil. Özil was adamant about how important trust in him was in reaching his final transfer decision and how that belief had dissipated at Madrid. In Wenger, though, Özil has a coach who not only understands his game but encourages it in the same manner that Thomas Schaaf did at Bremen.
Arsenal’s passing and quick transition game will suit Özil perfectly. We should see him adapt to the team and the players very quickly. The physical aspect of the game, an element that he has struggled with in the past, has been an area in which the Gelsenkirchen native has shown the most improvement in the last two years. Özil should should thus have little problem coping with the physical side of the Premier League.
Even more pronounced than adapting quickly to the league’s style of play is how Özil’s vision and style will improve the players around him. Özil has always been the kind of player whose presence and ingenuity galvanized teammates. At Bremen he was Diego’s perfect foil. The same is true with Thomas Müller at the national team, Ronaldo at Madrid and so on. It is almost inevitable that the level of play at Arsenal will be raised with the arrival of Özil. With teammates like Cazorla, Arteta and Wilshere he will also have a supporting cast that can read him and play on his level.
50m Euros may be steep but in Özil Arsenal have invested in a player that can definitely take them to the next level. He is in the right environment to thrive. He has a coach that will nurture and support his development as a player and Özil is more motivated than ever before to prove himself. Exciting times lie ahead for the club and the player.
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