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.