Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
In a league full of stars, Arsenal’s Mesut Özil still finds a way to shine above the rest. The German midfielder, who was Arsenal’s record signing in 2013, is a constant fixture in Arsene Wenger’s starting lineup and has helped the storied London club add to its already packed trophy cabinet.
Troubled Start in Germany
After short stints at smaller youth academies in Germany, Mesut Özil found his first professional home at Schalke 04. The young German midfielder would spend just one year in the Budesliga side’s academy system before making his professional debut at the age of 17. Özil came on as a late substitute during the team’s match against Eintracht Frankfurt.
In his first professional season, the 17-year-old would consistently appear on Schalke’s bench, and would wind up making 19 total league appearances. Near the end of the season, Özil started to earn more and more time as a starter in Mirko Slomka’s lineup. These early performances elevated Özil’s profile in German football, and some thought it was just a matter of time before he became a star.
The following year, however, the teenage midfielder rejected Schalke’s contract extension. This dispute eventually led to Özil changing clubs, and burning bridges at the Veltins-Arena. His next stop: Werder Bremen.
The former Schhalke man made the switch to Bremen in the 2008 January transfer window and would make his debut for the club just ten days later against Bayern Munich. Özil would split his time equally between the starting eleven and the substitutes. His first half season ended with 12 league appearances (six as a sub and six as a starter). The teenager also managed to score his first ever Bundesliga goal during a dramatic 3-3 draw with Karlsuher late in the season.
During his first full season Weserstadion, Özil truly began to show his class and reignited the hope that he could be Germany’s next big thing. The 2008/09 season saw the midfielder post a career high in assists (12) as well as in goals (three). This breakout campaign ended with an exclamation point as Özil led Bremen to the DFB-Pokal final, where he scored the winner against Bayer Levekusen.
In his final year in the Bundesliga, Özil continued to shine. Now a 21-year-old, the midfielder tripled his previous best in goals with nine, and matches his career high in assists as well with 12. His outstanding play on the field again helped to push Bremen to the cup final, but this time they were handed a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich. In the league, Özil’s club finished third and qualified for the next season’s Champions League, where they would have to compete without their young star.
Moving to Madrid
After five successful years in the Bundesliga, Mesut Özil finally moved abroad in the summer of 2010. A drawn out transfer process eventually led to the young German being sold to Real Madrid for a reported fee of €15 million. Joining Özil for his Spanish move would be his international teammate Sami Khedira who just signed from Stuttgart.
The switch to La Liga did little to hinder Özil’s amazing performances on the field. The German midfielder immediately found himself in Los Blancos starting lineup for league fixtures as well as Champions League competition. A star-studded midfield with the likes of Özil, Ángel Di María, Xabi Alonso, Khedira and Kaká had the talent to win almost any competition they partook in, but 2010-11 ended with just one piece of silverware. Other than a victory in the Copa del Rey, Madrid played second fiddle to Barcelona as they finished second in the league and were knocked out by their Catalan rivals. For Özil, however, it was another year of career bests as he seven goals between European competition and the league while racking up another 24 assists.
Özil continued to thrive at Madrid in his sophomore campaign, and in the process claimed the first league title of his career. In addition to the title, the German midfielder also tallied the most assists in La Liga for the season with 17. Despite this impressive year, rough waters were waiting for Özil in the Spanish capital.
Before the 2012-13 season, Real Madrid brought in Luka Modric from Tottenham Hotspurs and it didn’t seem like there was enough room for both him and Özil to play in the midfield. In what would end up being his final year with Madrid, Özil started just 23 matches (the lowest number since moving to Spain), but still scored nine league goals and assisting 13, as well.
Welcome to London
After a lot of speculation about whether or not Özil was growing unhappy with his decreased role at Real Madrid, he left the Spanish capital for greener pastures. His newest destination: Arsenal. The Gunners spent a reported fee of £42.4 million, a club record, to bring the German international to the Emirates. This astronomical fee was not what you would expect from Arsene Wenger, but it showed the faith that the manager had in his newest signing to impact the squad.
Just like at Madrid, Özil would help Arsenal win a domestic cup in just his first season at the club. The triumph in the FA Cup was momentous not just for Özil, but also for the club as the whole as it ended an unprecedented nine-year trophy drought. The transition to the Premier League saw a decrease in Özil’s offensive numbers as he scored just five goals, and tallied nine assists (his fewest since 2007/08).
Özil’s sophomore year in England brought with it an injury. A knee injury sustained early in October kept the club record signing out of action until January. This lengthy injury layoff limited the midfielder to just 22 appearances (the fewest since 2008/09), but it did not stop him from claiming yet another FA Cup title.
After spending time with the German U-19 and U-21 teams, Mesut Özil’s senior debut finally came in 2009. His impressive displays with Werder Bremen earned him a spot in Joachin Löw’s squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Despite his relatively small time with the senior side, Özil started all seven of the team’s matches in South Africa as they finished third in the competition.
Özil’s next taste of major European competition came in the 2012 Euros where he again started every single one of the country’s matches. Despite scoring in the semifinals against Italy, Germany was again knocked out before the finals and were forced to go home trophy-less. It was just a matter of time, however, before they finally found themselves atop the world.
After helping Arsenal claim an FA Cup title, Özil travelled with the national team to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and claimed his biggest piece of silverware to date. The Arsenal midfielder, just like in every other tournament he participated in, started every match in the German midfield and even scored a dramatic goal in the 120th minute against Algeria in the first knockout stage. After humiliating Brazil 7-1 in the semifinals (Özil grabbed an assist during the match), the Germans topped Argentina in a crazy 1-0 extra-time match to claim the nation’s fourth World Cup.
Mesut Özil is one of the most creative midfielders in the world when he’s at his best. His ability to improvise (see: this bounce pass against Denmark), paired with his uncanny ability to spray passes in the attacking third, makes Özil incredibly dangerous in possession. One of the most noticeable traits in his game has to be the trick pass. You can never really tell where the 26-year-old is going to distribute the ball because you never really know how he’s even going to pass it. Özil is just as capable of flicking a back heel pass into space as he is placing a no-look layoff to one of his teammates for an assist. This knack for the unconventional makes Özil a joy to watch on the field as he adds excitement to whatever team he’s playing for.