Runners-up at Euro 2008, third-place finishers at the 2010 World Cup and semi-finalists at Euro 2012—it’s time for Germany to finally deliver at the forthcoming FIFA World Cup. One player who will be under the utmost scrutiny is Mesut Ozil as Germany travel to Brazil expectantly in search of a first major trophy success in 18 years.
Son of Turkish parents, Ozil could also have elected to represent Turkey. However, he has been a mainstay for Joachim Low and Germany since making his debut in 2009. Ozil has fired 17 goals and provided 23 assists in 53 appearances (link in German) in the No. 8 shirt for Die Mannschaft—remarkably, though, the Gelsenkirchen-born playmaker has been substituted in over a third of those games—19 times in total.
Impressive performances in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa earned him a dream move to Real Madrid from Bundesliga also-rans Werder Bremen. For all his magnificent skill and trickery, a lethal final pass and sheer brilliance, one has to surmise that he hasn’t always found his best form at the business end of competitions for club and country.
Ozil was an integral part of three successive Madrid sides that exited the Champions League at the semi-final stage from 2011-2013—thereby failing to deliver the coveted Decima—a 10th Champions League/European Cup success for Los Blancos.
That’s why his former club side, Real Madrid, made a conscious decision to keep the more defensively minded Angel Di Maria and to offload the mercurial Ozil to Arsenal. Ask yourself this: Would Real Madrid have kept two clean sheets in their recent clashes against Bayern Munich with Ozil in their ranks? Probably not.
Germany have failed to win a major trophy since Euro 1996 at Wembley. The disappointment of Euro 2012 and another painful semi-final defeat at the hands of Italy still gnaws away at the German psyche. Ozil is part of that tarnished group of players who have gained a reputation for falling short on the big occasion.
It will not have escaped the national coach’s attention that he has no shortage of talent able to replace Ozil at the first sign of frailty.
Marco Reus has hit form for Borussia Dortmund at just the right time with 16 league goals and 14 assists to head the Bundesliga rankings. Bayern’s Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller are also brilliant tactical options for Low. Mueller, top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, is able to slot into a whole host of attacking positions—with his defensive skills and general nuisance factor an added bonus.
The fitness of ageing record goalscorer Miroslav Klose is still very much a worry for Low. The coach will need a plan B up his sleeve, with the de rigueur “false nine” tactic—playing without an out-and-out striker—a possible variation from Germany’s traditional 4-2-3-1 system. Low might consider Reus, Muller or Gotze a better option in this role rather than the more lightweight Ozil.
His detractors—and many were queuing up over the long English winter—continue to highlight his weakness in the tackle, poor heading ability, sulky body language and a tendency to go absent without leave from key games. So if Low, like Carlo Ancelotti, chooses to look for a more willing workhorse in defensive areas, Ozil could quite readily be sacrificed by his equally underpressure manager.
Ozil arrived in north London as one of Europe’s most sought-after players as Arsenal splashed out £42.5 million to make him their record signing on transfer deadline day last September.
He blossomed initially in his debut season in England’s top tier, playing a starring role as his new side sumptuously marched to the summit of the Premier League. His silky skills gave the Gunners real hope that they could finally break a league title-winning drought dating back to “The Invincibles’’ of 2003/04.
However, that hope subsided as Arsenal’s No. 11 struggled to make an impact in the second half of the season. Critics savaged some below-par performances and Ozil giving the impression of being disinterested on the pitch. He suffered the ignominy of being rested—otherwise known as dropped—by Arsene Wenger after a few largely anonymous performances.
That massive slump in form was typified by a tame penalty miss against Bayern Munich. He was further hamstrung after suffering an injury in Bavaria against the German champions. Rather inevitably, Arsenal crashed out of Europe’s elite club competition with their most expensive signing’s fading fortunes also coinciding with the Gunners’ annual disappearance from the title race.
Their talisman’s timely return to fitness and form in the spring has helped Arsenal seal a 17th consecutive Champions League qualification and another of those prized fourth-place trophies Monsieur Wenger likes to collect. Low needs Ozil at the top of his game if Germany are to live up to expectations in Brazil, and therefore the 25-year-old is under the most pressure after a mixed first season in England.
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