Thanks for the Moments, Mesut Özil

Author : chadtmp
Publish Date : 2021-02-23

Thanks for the Moments, Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil watched Jack Wilshere’s pass as it drifted over his shoulder, and then plucked it down from the sky, a coin landing on a cushion. Most players might have accelerated then, with an empty penalty area unfolding before him, an opponent giving chase at his back.

Özil, though, slowed down, almost to walking pace. He did not look at the ball; he did not need to. He knew where it was. Instead, he glanced to his right, assessing Olivier Giroud’s intentions. He had called the Frenchman his teammate for only 12 days — a handful of training sessions, no more — but he read him perfectly.

If anything, it looked as if he under-clubbed the pass he then sent Giroud’s way, a soft-shoe roll across the penalty area that seemed to sell the striker slightly short. The appearance was deceptive: The ball invited Giroud to dart away from his marker, and gave him enough space and time to pick his spot. He swept a shot past the goalkeeper.

As he wheeled away in celebration, he sought out the man who had made it possible. Özil had been unwell in the buildup to the game. Already, though, he had made quite the impression. His very presence had lifted his teammates. Online, his new fans swooned. “If that’s Özil under the weather, with little or no relationship with any of his colleagues, then I can’t wait to see him when he’s firing on all cylinders,” Arseblog wrote. He had, at that point, played 11 minutes for Arsenal.

In truth, he did not even need that long. On the night he signed — transfer deadline day in September 2013 — a throng of fans congregated outside the Emirates Stadium, mobbing the Sky Sports News reporter stationed outside as he delivered updates on how the complex negotiations were proceeding. When the deal was completed, they celebrated with the sort of gusto that would ordinarily greet a late winning goal.

Özil had Arsenal at hello. Even at the time, his arrival felt a little like another milestone in soccer’s blooming transfer culture, an age in which acquisition is a success in and of itself, an expression of power and clout and virility that renders what happens afterward — whether the player is, in fact, any good — if not irrelevant then very much secondary.

Such a reading of Özil’s time in London — that the most significant aspect of his Arsenal career was the fact of it — is not entirely invalid, but it is a touch misleading.

The sense of jubilation on the night he signed was understandable. The previous seven years had been difficult for Arsenal: not difficult in any real sense, not difficult in a way that fans of Rochdale or Torquay or York City would recognize, but difficult by thoroughly modern superclub standards.

Hamstrung by the need to repay the loans required to build the Emirates, Arsène Wenger had been forced to work on a relative shoestring. The sight of players’ leaving Arsenal for more money and broader horizons at Manchester City had become a common one. A year earlier, the club had allowed its talisman, Robin van Persie, to sign with Manchester United, a gesture taken as a symbolic surrender. An Arsenal team that had always seen itself as a title contender seemed to have downgraded its ambitions to merely qualifying for the Champions League.

Özil’s arrival was greeted as a sign that the dark days were over. Here was a bona fide superstar, lured from Real Madrid no less, for a record fee. He was a symbol of a new dawn: The debt paid down and the calvary completed, the club could now take its place as one of the game’s true superpowers, equipped with a team fit for its home.

It did not, of course, quite work out like that. Özil’s tenure ended this week, when he flew to Istanbul to join his boyhood team, Fenerbahce, on a free transfer, several months after Arsenal effectively shrink-wrapped him and left him on the loading dock.

In the course of seven and a half years at Arsenal, Özil won three F.A. Cups and played a central role in one genuine title challenge, in 2016, but he could not be said to have signaled a change in the club’s fortunes. (He would also, of course, win the World Cup with Germany during this period.)

The Arsenal team he joined was a fixture in the Champions League; the one he left was scrabbling to claim a place in the Europa League. Özil, in some quarters, was held responsible for some part of that decline; a kinder interpretation would be that he was simply not a bulwark against it.

Either way, his time in London did not have the outcome that either he or his club would have preferred. Instead, as The Guardian neatly put it this week, he left a sort of “half-legacy” at the Emirates: one of games that he dominated, rather than seasons; one of eternal promise that something more was around the corner; and, in later years, one of intense division among those who hold Arsenal close, some of whom saw him as the problem, and some who still believed he might be the solution.

To most, then, even if he cannot be deemed a failure, then he certainly cannot be cast as a success. There was no Premier League title, no Champions League crown, not even a Premier League player of the season award. He never lived up to that initial hype. In his twilight, Özil came to be dismissed as a player of great moments, and nothing more.

And yet that seems a strange reason to condemn him as a letdown. It is a common misconception that supporting a team is about trophies and championships and glory. It is not. If it were, millions of us would simply not bother. It is, instead, about memories of moments.

Winning, of course, is cherished because it tends to create more of those moments than losing. Winning is prized because the instant of victory is the greatest moment of all. But that does not strip meaning or value from all of the moments along the way; the journey is as much the point as the destination.

And Özil, though he never took Arsenal where the club hoped he might, provided plenty of those moments. That pass, 11 minutes into his first game, was just one of many, which went beyond the goals against Newcastle and Ludogorets and Napoli, plus all the others that might grace a YouTube compilation soundtracked by off-the-rack E.D.M., or all of the 19 assists he recorded in his finest season.

There were the countless deft first touches, the hundreds of clever passes, the ones only players of the rarest gifts can see. There were the otherwise tedious games — true, often against weaker opposition — that he illuminated, especially in his first few seasons. There was, most important of all and yet least tangible, the sense that with him in the team and on the field, something might happen at any moment.

None of that is worthless. Özil might not have heralded a new dawn for Arsenal, after all; he might not even have been able to stay the decline. He might feel, with the benefit of hindsight, when the final verdict is issued, like something of an anticlimax. But the journey is as much the point as the destination, and Özil provided plenty of moments along the way.

The Crest of a Wave

In many ways, Inter Milan’s decision to undertake a comprehensive rebrand should be welcomed by anyone who has cause to refer to the club in English. It solves a rather knotty problem, you see, one that is rooted in the fact that Inter Milan does not, strictly speaking, exist.

The club’s name is Internazionale, which can be abbreviated, in Italian or in English, to Inter. But there is no mention of Milan. Inter Milan is a widespread, longstanding (and ultimately pretty harmless) Anglicism, but it is not — technically — a thing, any more than Arsenal London is a thing.

So the club’s reported plan to change its name to Inter Milano should, to some extent, make everything easier for us — and what, ultimately, is more important than the convenience of the English-speaking world? — just as it would be in our interests for Sporting Clube de Portugal to accept the inevitable and start calling itself Sporting Lisbon.

Inter’s plans extend beyond its name, though. The club intends to alter its crest, too, in line with the redesign of its great rival, Juventus, a couple of years ago. That, too, should be unremarkable: Inter has had 13 versions of its crest in its 113-year history, though the basic style has been the same since 1963 (with the exception of a weird decade from 1978 to 1988 in which its ornate design was replaced by a cartoon snake).

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