Real Madrid: Why Mesut Özil Needs More Touches for Los Blancos
Real Madrid are reeling following their most recent La Liga loss to Malaga, and it may not get much worse than this.
But this season's Real team are unpredictable, the manager has drawn swords against everyone and anyone, and the players look a far cry from the champions they were back in May.
It's easy to paint a dystopian picture of life at the Bernabeu at the moment. Such is Real Madrid's standards that even a current league position of third is considered disastrous.
However, this is a team that is divided on football as well as political matters. The club has a tradition they want to uphold, yet they appointed a manager two years ago who was certain to shuffle the deck—for good or for bad.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be on his way out soon following the latest announcement that he wasn't interested in extending his contract. The Portuguese has scored 14 goals in La Liga this season, but hasn't been as consistently influential as he can be.
Does that lie with a significant drop in creativity this season in comparison to last?
Mesut Özil's numbers this season are a reflection of the in-house fighting at the club, rather than a drop in the player's quality. The German international is Real Madrid's most important player—he should be the player who dictates the game—and he holds more than enough talent to rev the engines of the team's crushing attack.
However, Jose Mourinho isn't having any of it. It's difficult to see which event came first: the player's drop in form or the manager's conflict, forcing a negative effect on Özil's game.
If Mourinho is serious about cleaning up this mess and avoiding an early split with the club—mutual or otherwise—he simply must make Özil feel like a valued and important player in the squad. In reality, Özil is a superstar good enough to raise the game of those around him.
It's interesting that so many of Mourinho's former players at his previous clubs thought of him so highly. One of the most memorable pictures prior to the manager taking up the position at Real Madrid was the one in which Marco Materazzi struggled to hold back the tears.
His time at Real Madrid thus far has certainly been controversial, but he finally had all the pieces of this expensively assembled squad working magnificently together.
It broke up Barcelona's dominance at the top of La Liga, while it should have brought them the Champions League title, too.
Özil's stunning free kick against Valladolid should have been enough to grant him set piece duty when within rage. But like his performances in weeks leading up to the 3-2 win over Valladolid, it should have hammered home just how much of poor move it was for Mourinho to target the player in such a manner.
It's so easy to tell that Real's game picks up or something impressive is about to happen when Özil is on the ball. While their game so often looks tired and unimaginative, Özil brings to life those around him, especially Karim Benzema, who has looked isolated on a number of occasions.
It's not just about making the best players know they have a license to control the outcome of the game. It's also about making the players want to play for you and for their teammates.
The story of the shirt swap earlier in the season gave an indication as to which side of the dressing room divide Özil's loyalties lay, and perhaps that's something that Mourinho won't be successful in eradicating in order to form a unified squad.
Whatever the outcome may be with regards to the manager's future, and even if Ronaldo does decide to pack his bags at the end of the season, it's imperative the next in line brings out the best in Özil and permanently unlocks the qualities he provides to this team.
If it means pairing him with players who are different, yet not necessarily better then so be it. Özil is and should be far too valuable to the club to discard simply because the power struggle has filtered down to his bench in the dressing room.
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