Özil’s perceptive and selfless passing will be hard for Republic of Ireland to contain
Arsenal midfielder stung by treatment in Spain but still remains central to Germany’s campaign to win fourth World Cup
Germany’s Mesut Ozil, right, and Sami Khedira at yesterday’s press conference in Cologne. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP
Dwarfed a little by the set-up at a Mercedes dealership in Cologne which appeared to have been inspired by New York’s Guggenheim, Mesut Özil seemed reticent yesterday as the German pressed him for latest thoughts on the Republic Ireland, Real Madrid and Arsenal. He is, you got the sense, a walking example of a player who likes to do his talking on the pitch.
If he gets even half a chance to do that at the Rhein Energy Stadium tonight, though, Noel King and his players are likely to be in for quite a night of it.
The game comes just a day short of the anniversary of the thumping the Germans handed Ireland back in Dublin and even if the thought never crossed the interim manager’s mind that night that he might be in charge for the return fixture, he probably recognised that stopping Özil would be key to avoiding a repeat performance.
Nothing that the 24-year-old – he’ll turn 25 on Tuesday – has done since in the intervening months is likely to have changed his mind.
Tonight’s game will be the Arsenal midfielder’s 50th for his country and it comes on close to home turf, with the grandson of a Turkish immigrant having grown up in the industrial city of Gelsenkirchen, barely 60 kilometres from Cologne.
He started to make his name at hometown club Schalke 04 before spending a couple of years with Werder Bremen, a spell that ended abruptly when he stole the show in a couple of German games at the 2010 World Cup and Real Madrid decided to come calling before it was too late.
His time in Spain was , by any standards, something of a triumph with the left-footed midfielder making an earlier-than-expected impact due to injuries to others and then shining to such an extent that he simply couldn’t be dropped. Over three years he laid on more than 70 goals for team-mates, more than a third of them for Ronaldo and looked entirely central to the team’s set-up until Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in the summer.
The Italian’s true view on the purchase of Gareth Bale and the sale of Özil for roughly half that amount is difficult to discern as he has tended to loyally follow his employers’ line down the years, occasionally defending the apparently indefensible along the way but Joachim Löw describes the decision to sanction his departure as “incomprehensible” and it is hard to believe that the newly-arrived coach would have let a player his predecessor, Jose Mourinho, described as “unique” go by choice.
Rather, club president Florentino Perez appears to have made the call to sell in order to balance the books. Even at close to €50 million, however,the deal looks a spectacularly bad bit of business, perhaps the club’s worst since Claude Makelele was allowed to leave for Chelsea a decade ago.
Özil, as has been amply highlighted both by Arsenal’s games since he arrived and several of Madrid’s since he left, provides a creative heart to a team, with his perceptive and selfless passing a priceless asset when it comes to opening up teams that have come, as Ireland no doubt will tonight, hoping to defend and strike on the break.
“Özil knows exactly how to control the ball in what kind of space to give himself time,” says long-time Arsenal hero Dennis Bergkamp. “That’s the difference between the players and great players. With his intelligence and his touch and his skills, he is trying to do something right with every ball.”
Sami Kheidra was diplomatic yesterday about his countryman’s departure to London, noting that it would be “to the detriment of any team” to lose a player of Özil’s quality before acknowledging that he could say little more due to the fact that Real are still paying his wages. Ronaldo, though, was more forthright, with the Portuguese stating that he was “angry” as the sale was bound to be “bad for me”.
Ronaldo’s loss has been Aaron Ramsey’s gain and while Özil yesterday avoided a repeat of the criticism he levelled at his former club over the lack of respect they had shown him – not least the briefings to reporters in which his professionalism and attitude were questioned – he was enthusiastic about the welcome he has received from Arsene Wenger, describing him as “a super coach” and observing: “The good thing at Arsenal is the team and coaching staff are fully behind me. They let me assume and share responsibility and that’s what I feel great about.”
Their faith has been amply rewarded so far. He took just 10 minutes to create his first goal for the club and his contribution against Stoke – when his set-pieces were outstanding – made what might have been a tricky game for the Londoners into something of a stroll.
Preventing him from having a similar impact will not be at all easy tonight and even trying comes at its own cost in terms of the space that it may leave free for the others as defenders push out of position in order to close him down.
In Dublin, under Trapattoni, he threatened to run riot at times and laid on two goals, one each side of the penalty he scored. Coming up with a more effective plan to contain him this evening would be a significant achievement for the Italian’s replacement in itself but it looks to be essential if Ireland are to avoid another grim night against the Germans.