I do not usually ridicule the comments of “armchair supporters” since I barely attend any live games (simply because I have a young family and cannot afford to spend the time or money to do so). However, I was at Old Trafford for the Arsenal game (incidentally sitting with the “home” support in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand thanks to the generosity of a Man Utd supporting friend who had a spare ticket!).
And for the first time I had the privilege of seeing Mesut Özil play live!
On the television, you only see the action around the ball most of the time. As your eyes are fixated to the television screen, you usually have no idea of the off- the-ball movements of players not involved in the action.
Many years ago I saw a movie called -Zidane: A 21st century Portrait1, where they filmed Zidane in a live game using 17 synchronous cameras (only focussing on him) and an on-body microphone. Watching that movie was a revelation for me. I was amazed at how few touches on the ball Zidane actually managed in the whole game.
Being obviously heavily marked, long passages of time passed without him doing anything other than continuously moving, watching, shouting and asking for the ball etc. You could hear his heavy breathing and beads of sweat as the only testimony of the effort he put in. Then you suddenly see him explode into intense duels when a ball came his way, with multiple opposition players converging on him like feral cats jumping on a prey, you witness his genius when he manages to create the right pass (more often than not) in very tight spaces.
And all this gets over in split seconds. Overall, I recall he set up a goal and then managed to get sent off towards the end of the game.
Watching Özil on Sunday reminded me of that movie. I have heard some commentators talking about Özil’s off-the-ball movement in the past, so I kept an eye on his position with the corner of my eye even when the ball was elsewhere on the field.
And I can tell you that Özil was everywhere. Sometime he was on the left flank. Sometimes on the right. Sometimes dropping deep, sometimes in line with the last opposition defender. Always moving. Always providing options to other players. He also created several chances (including the one which Giroud missed), one of which could have very easily been a goal.
Özil may never have the energy of Alexis “Duracell” Sanchez or the industry of Aaron Ramsey. He does not chase every ball like mad or fly into tackles. However, his movements are very efficient, very well thought. He sees things on the field that others don’t. It may seem he is not doing much but he keeps on moving intelligently all the time all over the field providing options, occupying spaces, vacating (and thus creating) spaces, distorting the opposition’s shape2. He works very hard though, I can vouch for that3. And unlike the impression created by the media and some fans that he looks uninterested, I saw the anger in him when a pass didn’t come off or when other players wasted an opportunity, so I know that he passionately cares for the team.
So the next time any of you “armchair supporters” criticise Özil for being lazy, ineffective, uninterested etc., do us a favour. Go attend a live game and keep your eyes peeled on him. If you really love and understand football, you will feel privileged and blessed to watch him play. Like I did!
However, if you don’t agree with what I said above, at least remember that there is a reason why managers likes Wenger, Joachim Lowe and even Mourinho admire him as one of the best number 10s in the world (I hope you wouldn’t be deluded to think you know more about football then them!).
Admittedly Özil has not reached the heights of his Real Madrid career in Arsenal colours, but remember that we have been hampered by injuries to Ozil and to other players (especially ones with pace like Walcott/Chamberlain) in developing the understanding needed to exploit his movements! Also remember that he is still young and can improve even further! Don’t destroy his confidence like we did for Arshavin and Gervinho and almost did for Ramsey!
2 Here are a few articles which explain it better than I ever can!
3You don’t have to believe me. Just look at the statistics:
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias
- The real live facts that the media won’t ever touch (part 2)