Arsenal's Mesut Ozil Needs Time to Adjust to Life in the World's Toughest League

Stan CollymoreFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014


When pundits like me dare to say a footballer is mentally and physically tired, you get a predictable backlash from fans—particularly when it applies to supremely talented players like Arsenal's Mesut Ozil.

"For £200 grand a week he should be able to play 24 hours a day, seven days a week," they'll say. "Doctors and nurses earn a fraction of that and they put the hours in." Or, "Let's be thankful he's not doing a shift in Helmand Province."

Instead of rushing to the classic British response, however, we need to look as Ozil as a footballer in isolation.

Up until this point in his career, he's relied heavily on his wonderful skill set. As such, life in Spain with Real Madrid was made for him. In La Liga, the most important thing is technique, followed by tactical nous and then physicality.

In the Premier League, where Ozil finds himself now, the most important thing is hard work. The second most important thing is more hard work, with technical ability and skill coming behind a player's propensity to roll up their sleeves and put a shift in.

It's a reflection of the British society we live in—if you're not good enough, work like a dog.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The mentality in Spain is completely different. It's a more relaxed society, with a higher value put on talent and a more laidback lifestyle that's reflected in the way the football teams play there.

Ozil has therefore gone from a league that was designed to bring the best out of him, to one that puts most value on an area he's never had to focus on.

He was paraded in La Liga as a technician, but now he needs to dig deep within himself and develop a part of his game he hasn't really needed in his development to this point.

I've played in the Premier League and there's really nothing like it. After 20 minutes, your heart is beating out of your chest and it's impossible to explain the intensity levels required to sustain a career in it. England's top flight is like a different code of association football to that played in Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

That is the reason why Ozil's performance has faded over the season. The Premier League is a gruelling 38-fence race and he was always going to take a while to adjust physically and mentally to the demands of playing in the world's toughest league.

Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

According to Sky Sports, Ozil was averaging 48.73 sprints per game in the period leading up to Boxing Day. In the matches since, that number has dropped down to 35.69. That's no coincidence—it's the natural conclusion of burnout and a player gasping for breath under the weight of new demands on his body.

With that struggle comes a drop in confidence.

The sports psychology element here is massive because Ozil is tired and unable to do the things he wants every week, which in turns makes him less likely to bring the mentality Arsenal need from him—as evidenced by his performance against Bayern Munich.

I think back to prolific Wolves striker Steve Bull. He made a career out of scoring goals for fun in the leagues below the top flight and that bred a confidence which eventually saw him into the England side. Bull even went to a World Cup with England, but had he played his club career at the top level, he may never have won a single cap.

The reason is simple—he would have scored fewer goals and his confidence would have been nowhere near as high.

SCOTT HEPPELL/Associated Press

We should not be surprised Ozil is struggling. Any player coming into the Premier League will find the transition very tough and even Lionel Messi would have some adjusting to do, as he faced up to new challenges and the increased physical strain on his body.

That's why Cristiano Ronaldo stands as the best in the world for mehe's proven himself a world-beater in England's top flight.

The Premier League remains the ultimate test of a player. So let's all give Ozil time to adjust and judge him not on this campaign, but on what he delivers for Arsenal next season and thereafter.