There’s something about Mesut Ozil. Something, that winds people up. Something, that’s compelled many Arsenal fans to near on celebrate his likely 10-week absence through injury; to genuinely insist via social media that his damaged left knee is ‘a blessing in disguise.’
And it’s driving me mad.
It doesn’t antagonize me quite as much as the nincompoops who’ve already started blaming Arsene Wenger and the Gunners medical staff for his latest injury setback.
Come on; the German has started nine matches and completed just six 90 minutes since the World Cup. He’s not fatigued. And anyway, can’t players just get injured these days without it being the physio or conditioning team’s fault? It’s a rough, tough game and body parts – believe it or not – occasionally suffer as a consequence.
But anyway, back to Mesut…
Why do so many people turn against him?
Why do so many football lovers jump on the Arsenal man’s back, the moment he doesn’t deliver on his promise?
I believe much of it is down to his body language.
It isn’t great. Shoulders slumped, eyes down, skulking around the pitch rather than scampering, the German’s timid nature and inability to look busy or angry on a football field is persistently held against him.
We’ve seen it dozens of times. Ozil loses the ball, the cameraman pans in, and all we’ll get is a self-contained, picture of nothingness. There’s no animation, no screams of frustration, no snarling of teeth, no f-words. Just a pair of big, sad eyes and a blank face that looks thoroughly fed up with life.
And we don’t like that. “Look at him,” they scream, “he doesn’t care!”
Well, as someone who used to have equally indifferent body language on the football field, I do sympathize a little with the German.
My natural posture is pretty poor, and often when the ball wasn’t in my vicinity I’d give off the appearance I was disinterested. Scouts, members of the Arsenal backroom staff and even my friends and family – people who’d watched me play for years – couldn’t always tell if I was despondent or not. Put your shoulders back, lift your arms; look like you want the ball they’d frustratingly say.
Paul Fairclough, my manager at Stevenage, once slapped me around the face (hard) in a bid to wake me from my laid-back stupor.
I confess I was perhaps a little too chilled out at times, but inside my own head I was never conscious of projecting a lackadaisical vibe. I wasn’t feeling lethargic. It’s just that the way I carried myself, the way I walked, the way I ran, said something else on occasion.
A lot of footballers have arms that whizz away like pistons when they sprint, and when they’re frustrated, those who play in positions that will allow them to do so, will charge around looking to steam into a 50/50 in a bid to alleviate their irritation.
For my sins I just wasn’t like that, and Ozil isn’t either.
Stats from a recent contest at Villa Park revealed that Arsenal’s record signing had covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch that afternoon. It’s not the first time that’s happened. The German isn’t lazy.
In fact swap Ozil’s upper torso for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s for example, and you’d see a completely different type of footballer.
A combination of the World Cup winner’s quick feet, delicate touches and effortless manipulation of the ball - with the busy style The Ox exudes – and we’d be wowed, over and over again. Appearances can be deceptive.
Jamie Carragher said this week that the ‘Ozil apologists’ are in denial; that the manager doesn’t trust him centrally in the big matches. With all due respect to Jamie, I disagree. Arsene Wenger’s decision to utilize him out wide is borne out of a desire to beef up the central midfield, with three players instead of two, not out of any distrust.
Look, it’s obvious that Ozil can play a lot better.
Someone of his immense talent should deliver better quality corners and free-kicks, score more than eight goals in a year, and take matches by the scruff of the neck more often than he has. He must push himself harder to make an impact inside the final third, instead of giving off the easy pass nine times out of ten.
But no one in the Arsenal side can see an incisive pass and deliver it like he can. No one is cooler in a chaotic situation.
Luckily Wenger has the depth in his squad to cope without Ozil - and with an easier run of fixtures ahead, I still expect their season to pick up.
But celebrating his absence is uncalled for. Don’t be fooled into believing that the Gunners will be a better side without their most gifted footballer. That’s nonsense.
In football it sometimes feels like there’s more tolerance shown to talented cheats, talented divers, talented low-life’s, and talented human flesh eaters, than somebody who’s talented, but occasionally sluggish.
The game’s gone mad. And so have those Arsenal supporters rejoicing at their best players’ absence.
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