Why Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Is a Natural Heir to Liam Brady

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

For Arsenal fans it was love at first sight.

As soon as Mesut Ozil took to the field to make his Premier League debut against Sunderland, they were infatuated. His immaculate first-touch, instinctive dribbling and incisive passing won Gunners fans' hearts within moments.

After just 11 minutes, this burgeoning love affair was consummated as Ozil sprinted down the left wing to square for Olivier Giroud to score. It was beautiful but brutal, elegant yet effective.

Ozil’s aesthetic excellence will doubtless win Arsenal an army of new fans. Young supporters will gather at the Emirates Stadium to witness his brilliance in person.

However, for long-time supporters the acquisition of Ozil feels like just reward for almost a decade of prudent patience.

For the mature loyal fans, the novelty of seeing a global superstar strutting his stuff for the Gunners comes with a touch of familiarity. Ozil’s graceful stride, unparalleled vision and superlative technique are eerily reminiscent of a former Arsenal great.

These supporters will be transported back to the late 1970s, when another magical left-footed player with a wand of a left-foot patrolled the Arsenal midfield: Ozil is a natural heir to the role played by the great Liam Brady.

In recent years, Brady has enhanced his glowing reputation with a productive spell as the head of Arsenal’s youth academy. Speaking to FourFourTwo about what he looks for in a young talent, Brady said:

There is football intelligence, which is an indefinable thing. It’s difficult to teach things that are instinctive, like knowing where he should be or who he should pass to. The other thing – which is very much the deciding factor – is personality and desire: we definitely can’t teach that.

Those were the same qualities that defined Brady’s game: a powerful combination of guile and graft that made him a unique talent at Arsenal. Unique, that is, until Ozil’s arrival some 30 years later.

Liam Brady is now the head of Arsenal's esteemed academy
Liam Brady is now the head of Arsenal's esteemed academyRichard Heathcote/Getty Images

The two men arrived in North London in very different fashions. Ozil cost a staggering €50 million, making him the most expensive player in Arsenal’s history, and the second most expensive signing in English football. Brady joined the Gunners without a fee as a schoolboy in 1971.

As you’d expect of an established world-class player, Ozil has made an immediate impact in Arsene Wenger’s team. It took him just minutes to set up his first goal, and after two deadly set-piece deliveries during Sunday’s victory over Stoke he now leads the Premier League’s assist chart with three.

Within the space of a few matches, Ozil has stamped his authority all over the current Arsenal team.

Brady’s influence grew more slowly. Although he made his debut as a 17-year-old in 1973, it was not until former Northern Ireland international Terry Neill took over as manager in 1976 that Brady really hit his stride.

At just 34, Neill was Arsenal’s youngest ever manager, and his man-management skills brought the best out of the Irish playmaker.

Stats via Whoscored.com
Stats via Whoscored.com

Brady was an inspirational figure in Neill’s team. Like Ozil, he was a natural playmaker. He was not obsessed by goals, scoring just 59 times in 307 Arsenal appearances. That ratio is roughly akin to Ozil’s own at Real Madridthe German scored 19 times in 105 appearances for the Spanish giants. 

Both players’ style is defined instead by the creation of scoring chances for teammates. In the last five seasons, Ozil has recorded a remarkable 72 assiststhe highest tally in Europe. 

Brady too was fundamentally unselfish. At his peak, he helped Arsenal to three FA Cup finals in a row. The 1979 final against Manchester United is known among the Arsenal fans as the "Liam Brady final."

Although Brady did not score in the 3-2 victory, he played a crucial role in creating all three of the Arsenal goals. 

It is said the best players flourish on the big stage. That was certainly true of Brady on that May day at Wembley. The Irishman put aside any nerves to tear United apart, setting up Brian Talbot and then Frank Stapleton to give the Gunners a two-goal lead.

After United had dragged the scoreline back to 2-2, Brady dug deep to launch one final attack. He surged forward into United territory, fed Graham Rix for the winger to cross for Alan Sunderland to score a historic late winner. Arsenal became FA Cup winners, Brady became immortal.

Arsenal fans will hope Ozil can make his mark in similar fashion. 

Brady’s Arsenal story contains a warning to Wenger. After a solitary domestic cup win, Brady chose to leave the Gunners in pursuit of glory. He opted to join Italian side Juventus, where he twice became a Serie A champion. 

His departure in search of trophies bears comparison with Cesc Fabregas’ decision to join Barcelona in 2011. Like Fabregas, Brady deserved a better Arsenal side around him. He had to leave to fulfill his potential.

Arsenal must not let the same fate befall Ozil. 

Full-back Kieran Gibbs is conscious of the need to build a team befitting Ozil’s extraordinary gifts.

Speaking to Arsenal.com, he said: "A signing like Ozil is going to push our squad forward because you don't want to let him down. You want to perform for him and he will take us to the next level."

Arsenal must acquire more world-class players to lighten the load on Ozil.

If they do then the German stands every chance of joining Brady in the Arsenal hall of fame.