As the fallout from his statements continued to reverberate, Mesut Ozil was all smiles in Singapore as he joined up with his teammates to begin his preparations for a new season. Such is the seriousness of what he said you might imagine he’d be downcast and introspective but, bearing in mind we can only read so much into photographs in a somewhat stage-managed environment, he didn’t look like someone feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.
And it’s fair to say that his body language is such that if he did feel that way, it’d be pretty obvious. So, without trivialising anything he said, perhaps there’s an upside for him to have got all this off his chest. It’s unlikely that this is all simply based on the events just before the World Cup and during the tournament itself. You suspect it’s something that has been festering at a low level for some time, and his decision to confront it head on might well have been cathartic in some way.
From the Arsenal fan side of things I think the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course there are some who won’t agree with him, but in general – based on my own interactions with our fans – the majority back him and the stance he’s taken. It’s not easy to speak out against racism and discrimination, especially at an institutional level like the DFB, and I think there might be more difficult days to come for him.
This isn’t something that’s going to get swept under the carpet in a day or two, and we can see how much it’s annoyed some people in Germany. The pathetic reaction of Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness is a perfect illustration of how people can let personal animus obscure the main point. As he labelled Ozil ‘crap’ and took glee in his departure from the national side, those of us with half a brain saw an old white guy absolutely miss the point when it came to the fundamental message in the statements.
Whether it was deliberate or simply a consequence of his world view I can’t say. You can speculate all you want, but either way it was so blind to the reality as to be beyond absurd. Ozil’s agent, a man who seems to enjoy tearing strips off his client’s detractors, had plenty to say on the matter, and I’m sure this is a story which will rumble on for some time in Germany.
But what of Ozil now and what way will this affect him going into the new season with Arsenal? It’s not a selfish view, but a realistic one. He is one of our best players, and I’ve seen plenty express concern that this might prove a distraction for him, or his motivation might not be where we need it to be.
My hope – and it’s only that, not based on any inside info – is that he’ll feel a bit like someone with something to prove. We’ve seen players in the past come back after a disappointing World Cup and not perform anywhere near as well as we know they can, but I think these are different circumstances.
He must have known that by lightning this fire with his departure from the national side, he’d be illuminated by its flames in both the short and long term. You can’t do what he did and say what he said then hope to fade into the shadows of obscurity in a couple of days. Those aren’t words that people will forget in a hurry, and they’ll follow him around for some time yet.
If he plays well he’ll be showing the DFB exactly what they’re missing. If he plays poorly it’ll be a burden of the stance he took and his principles will be an obstacle to playing well. He must have considered this, even if it was very much secondary to what he had to say, and known that it would increase the pressure on him. If he’s willing to take that on, then for me it augurs well about what’s to come this season.
He must also know that things are different now. He doesn’t have the cushion of Arsene Wenger anymore, a man who loved him as a footballer but also allowed him more leeway than he should have been given at times. As we’ve said before, some players need a bit more love than others, but if you’re all carrot and no stick then it can have a negative effect. Not just on the player himself, but the rest of the squad who see someone as receiving special treatment.
I don’t think Unai Emery can possibly allow anything like that to happen. He has to stamp his authority on the squad, prove that it is a meritocracy, that there’s discipline but also fairness, and maybe it’s just me with rose-tinted glasses on, but I can’t help feel that Ozil might well benefit from someone taking a slightly harder line with him.
This idea that he just coasts through his career and that he doesn’t care rings false for me. I’m not going to get into the stuff about body language and how his style of play makes it look that way, because we’ve heard it all before. Nevertheless, I can’t be alone in thinking that we could get more out of him, and I hope that Emery, a new season, and a sense that he has to show the world again what Mesut Ozil can do will enable that to happen – and if it does our chances of achieving what we need to achieve will be better.
Beyond that, not much else happening, but as the tour continues in Singapore and the games begin we should hear from the new boss, the players etc, so that should be interesting. Also, the Ivan Gazidis to AC Milan stuff continues to rumble on, it’s mostly from the Italian side and not something that the English press have yet to run with but it’s gathering a bit of pace. He couldn’t, could he?
For now, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra in which James and I discuss the pre-season stuff, and the Mesut Ozil situation in some depth. Check it out below.