Mesut Ozil in defensive mode as he shrugs off Real smear over levels of professionalism
German stresses transfer to Arsenal not a backward one in his career
Mesut Ozil during an Arsenal training session at London Colney on Thursday in St Albans, England. Photograph: Getty Images
How curious that one of Mesut Ozil’s first acts as an Arsenal player, finally unveiled 10 days after his all-important signature confirmed one of the most audacious incoming transfers to the Premier League, was to defend himself. As he sat confidently beside Arsene Wenger and enthused about his bright new ambitions in London, a smear of Madrid mud was slung his way. The story was based on hearsay that was attributed to Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, which cast aspersions on Ozil’s levels of professionalism.
“People who know me know how professional I am,” he said calmly. “The past years you can see how many games I played – 159. If you’re not professional in your life then I don’t think you can play that many games. All the rumours, I don’t care about them. I have a new task here.”
Ozil is not the only player to have been shunted suddenly and a little painfully away from a career at the Bernabeu to blossom in pastures new. It could almost be a badge of honour to suffer the premature Real shove. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were both, like Ozil, discarded at the age of 24. Both have ably demonstrated since it is unwise to rush to judgment.
Ozil definitely subscribes to that idea. As he introduced himself to his English audience he repeatedly said he had come to Arsenal to improve. A move widely perceived as a backward step after three years in Spain is one he wishes to rebrand as an opportunity. It would be easy enough for a €50 million record signing, armed with all the experience that comes with spells in the Bundesliga and La Liga and almost 50 caps for Germany, to feel very comfortable about his talent. But Ozil was at pains to emphasise how much he intends to push himself.
“Young players develop very well here. This was one of the reasons why I chose to come,” he says. “I know what successful players they have had, players like Henry, Fabregas – so I know that the step here is the right one for me because many young players came here and got to become the best players in the world.”
His tutor, Wenger, is optimistic that even more strings can be added to Ozil’s bow. As the Arsenal manager explains: “He is 25 in October. He’s already a great player, as you say. There’s room now between 25 and 30 for him to become a dominant player and to make a step up from that.”
Wenger is impressed not just with Ozil’s technique but with the personality that goes with it. It is a trait he loved in the likes of Henry and Fabregas – the desire to influence games, the strength of character to be the team’s leader and make it tick. “He has all the attributes to be one of the leaders of our team,” the manager says.
Wenger’s strategy is for Ozil to orchestrate from an advanced midfield position and Jack Wilshere to do the same from further back. “I don’t think they conflict,” Wenger says. “Jack likes to come deep to take the ball and make a difference and then give and go again. Ozil is more behind the striker, higher up on the field.”
It was never part of Ozil’s plan to bad-mouth Real Madrid – he spoke fondly of happy times there – but when he outlined his admiration for Wenger, and the way Arsenal have tried to make him feel welcomed and wanted, it is obvious he felt something was missing at Real. “I did not get the respect and trust, it was a bit difficult,” he says. “When I spoke to Arsene on the phone, he was full of respect and as a player I need that.”
Madrid’s loss is very much Arsenal’s gain.