Is there a more polarising figure in world football than Mesut Ozil?
Aside from the ever-maddening tedium of Messi v Ronaldo, the debate about the German playmaker’s true quality pollutes more internet comments sections than any other topic.
Some see him as the cultured assist king of the world.
While others think of him as part ghost, part flat-track bully.
I have long been a huge admirer of Ozil, which is why I was delighted he was able to silence a few critics with a Man of the Match display in the North London derby.
And no, I don’t support Arsenal.
Ozil is a player who has prided himself on his selflessness long before Kevin De Bruyne publicly stated he prefers assists to goals.
The World Cup-winning midfielder is the only player in history to have been the season’s top assist provider in the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League.
Few have ever questioned his clever use of possession.
However, he was able to convert a few non-believers at the weekend, not through his probing passing and calming influence, but by tracking runners and making some notable interventions in defence.
But here’s the thing, the idea that Ozil lacks desire has always been something of a myth.
Last season he covered the second most ground out of all the Arsenal players and yet was dubbed ‘lazy’ time and time again.
Many can’t see past his relaxed demeanour.
His composure is what makes him such a good playmaker but it’s also what attracts criticism, as people mistake it for disinterest.
People seem to have an issue with the way he runs, rather than the actual distance he covers.
Just because he doesn’t radiate emotion on the pitch, doesn’t mean his desire to win burns any less brightly than other top-level professionals.
I will admit that his influence on big games has been minimal in recent times.
But his reputation as a flat-track bully is something that has only come into existence since he became an Arsenal player.
In fact, prior to his days in North London, he was thought of as a player who often saved his best for derbies or games against direct rivals.
Ozil has been named Germany’s Player of the Year fives times in the last six years.
And the likes of Thomas Muller, Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer and plenty of others have provided stiff competition in that time.
Joachim Low, the German public, and many of his team-mates have long been appreciative of Ozil’s form in major tournaments.
So then, if Ozil performed in big games for his previous clubs, and continues to do so for Germany, isn’t it possible that the blame for his ineffectiveness in crucial games lies elsewhere?
Doesn’t this suggest the problem is with Arsenal, not Ozil?
Ozil has always struck me as someone who trusts in his philosophy entirely.
He is unwavering in his devotion to a pass-heavy, methodical style — an approach Arsenal haven’t always been able to implement against top teams in recent years.
Perhaps, if those around him had the same confidence (and ability) to break down even the most challenging of opponents down through patient possession, Ozil would shine in big games once again?
He can not exist in a vacuum.
I shouldn’t let him off the hook completely.
A mark of a world-class player is being able to adapt to a match situation and so perhaps critics should be judging Ozil’s stubbornness or unwillingness to adapt, rather than his lack of desire?
Overall though, he’s a class act.
Arsenal would be worse off without him and after the latest reminder of his quality, fans will be more keen than ever for him to sign a new contract.
If not he could follow in the footsteps of Andrea Pirlo and Robert Lewandowski in joining a rival on a free and immediately becoming one of their key players.
If you aren’t an Ozil appreciator then you’re missing out.
To be blind to his true class is a tragedy for any football fan.
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