As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
If there was ever a player whose reputation took a hit last season, Mesut Ozil comes to mind. The German international arrived at Arsenal from Spanish giants Real Madrid last summer — for a club record $71 million no less — with a high reputation and even higher expectations. He was seen as the missing piece in Arsene Wenger’s side, a difference-maker capable of leading the club to the Premier League title.
Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way. Ozil did not seem up to the task, and failed to be the difference-maker that Wenger had expected. He seemed to have his worst performances in big Premier League matches as well as the Champions League (that penalty miss against Barcelona immediately springs to mind). His body language and negativity during those tough moments had many questioning his mental strength in additional to his physical capabilities.
What most everyone failed to realize was how bad a fit the club was for him. Arsenal does not compliment his strengths. Ozil is like a point guard on a basketball team, where he uses his vision and passing ability to create scoring opportunities for others. Unfortunately Arsenal lacked players up front capable of making those darting runs for him. They also failed to realize that Ozil was much more comfortable being one of the guys (as he was among all the Galacticos at Madrid) than he was being the guy.
Now Ozil’s standing as a world-class player is seemingly on the line. Four years ago in South Africa, he was looked upon as one of the world’s brightest young talents on a young German team filled with them. Now (much like his national side) Ozil enters the 2014 World Cup as a player with tremendous talent but with an inability to get over the hump when it matters most.
Can Ozil restore his reputation and prove to the world that he is indeed one of the world’s best?
Before Going Pro
Mesut Ozil was born on October 15, 1988 in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany as a third-generation Turkish-German. He began his youth career playing for various clubs in Gelsenkirchen and then played five years for Rot-Weiss Essen.
In 2005, he joined the youth academy at Schalke 04 where he gained notice for his playmaking abilities.
Ozil made his first team debut for Schalke 04 during the 2006-2007 season at the age of 18. He was looked at as the next great German footballer and his playing style had many comparing him to Zinedane Zidane of France. However, he would leave the club due to a falling out with club management and moved to Werder Bremen in January 2008.
In 2009 Ozil helped Werder Bremen capture the 2009 DFB-Pokal, scoring the lone goal in the final against Bayer Leverkusen. He also excelled in Europe, leading Bremen all the way to the UEFA Cup final before losing to Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine. The following season, Werder Bremen finished third in the German Bundesliga (up from tenth the previous year) with Ozil scoring nine goals and contributing 17 assists in 31 league appearances. By then, he was sought by several of Europe’s top clubs such as Arsenal, Barcelona, Manchester United, and Real Madrid.
On August 17, 2010, Werder Bremen announced that a deal had been reached sending Ozil to Real Madrid. He was brought up to back up his more celebrated teammate Kaka, but was forced into a starting role as the Brazilian recovered from surgery. He finished his first season at the Bernabeu with 6 league goals and 25 assists (the most by any player in a major European league) in 36 appearances. Ozil took on a larger role in his second season at Madrid. He again led La Liga in assists (17), helping the club capture a record 32nd La Liga title. His performance earned him a nomination for UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, becoming the youngest player to feature in the Top 10. Ozil’s fine play carried over to the 2012-13 season, although Real Madrid failed to collect any silverware. He finished as the top assist man in La Liga for the third consecutive season, this time with 26 assists.
On September 2 2013, Ozil agreed to join Arsenal for a club record $71 million transfer – the highest ever paid for a German footballer. Arsenal won the 2014 FA Cup during what was an injury-plagued season for Ozil, ending a nine-year trophy drought.
Ozil chose Germany over Turkey for his international career. He was part of Germany under-17 team in 2006, as well as their under-21 team from 2007.
He made his debut for the senior side in February 11 2009 during a friendly match against Norway. He scored his first goal for the national side in just his third appearance, in a friendly against South Africa on September 5. Ozil was eventually selected by Germany for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he started every match as Germany advanced all the way to the semifinal before losing 1-0 to eventual champions Spain. His play earned him one of the ten nominations for the Golden Ball, an award given for the top player of the tournament. Ozil helped Germany qualify for UEFA Euro 2012, with five goals and seven assists in ten matches (all wins). He helped Germany get to the semifinals of Euro 2012 only to lose 2-1 to Italy.
Ozil ended the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with a team-high eight goals as Germany finished top of their qualifying group.