When Werder Bremen sold Diego to Juventus in the summer of 2009, there was an unusual sense of tranquillity amongst the supporters considering their club had just sold its star player. That air of calm around the terraces of the Weserstadion was due to the fact that most people felt that Bremen had a perfect replacement already within their current squad. The presence of young Mesut Ozil was enough to keep even the most hardcore of Werder fans minds at ease, given his meteoric rise in the 2008/09 season. The majority had faith that Ozil could pick up where Diego had left off and – so highly rated is the 21-year-old – some even believe he could go on to become a bigger asset than the departed Brazilian – a huge compliment considering Diego’s undoubted class.
Given Ozil’s past season, there was no reason for anyone to question the supporter’s judgement. He managed to pick up his first trophy in the shape of the DFB (German) Cup and excelled in his first full season in Europe as Bremen made it to the final of the last ever UEFA Cup, losing out to Shakhtar. Although Bremen failed to get going in the Bundesliga, eventually finishing in a disappointing 10th, Ozil managed to make a significant impact in most games and came away with a respectable three goals and 15 assists that highlighted his attacking credentials. However, it was his creativity in an unconvincing side that was standing out most, and his inclusion in Germany’s Under-21 side for the summer’s European Championship was just rewards for his performances – and turned out to be his defining moment.
In a strong German side, Ozil was often the star performer and was pivotal in the side’s attacking play. Upon reaching the final against England, Coach Horst Hrubesh gave Ozil a more advanced role than in the pair’s group stage stalemate, where he played wide left, and the Werder man took full advantage, capping off a Man-of-the-Match display with a superb goal in a 4-0 victory. Pundits were unanimous in their opinion that Ozil was the difference in the game, and it is such mature displays that have seen him advance into the full national team. Originally given his debut in the February friendly with Norway, Joachim Low has since made Ozil an integral part of his World Cup plans and given his versatility and consistency, he is a sure bet to be on the plane to South Africa.
Not everyone has been too enamoured with Ozil’s performances for Germany however – most notably Turkey. While opposition defenders can be excused for not jumping for joy at Ozil’s dazzling form, the Turkish Football Federation have more personal reasons for being disenchanted at the German’s progress. Ozil is a German native having been born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, but has a strong Turkish heritage that the Turks feel he has turned his back on. Despite having played for Germany at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level, Turkey were desperate for Ozil to represent them at senior level, following fellow Turkish-German’s Halil and Hamit Altintop and Yildiray Basturk. Ignoring their advances, Ozil went on to represent Germany in a decision that infuriated and disappointed Turkish officials. Like most big players, Ozil is destined to have to deal with being the pantomime villain at some stage in his career, and how he deals with it could be crucial.
Ozil’s performances have continued to get better in the current season, and have even managed to answer questions about the few negatives left in his game. Some detractors felt Ozil’s form in front of goal needed to improve, with the playmaker simply not contributing enough goals. Five goals in his first 11 league games has certainly rectified that, and his only remaining weakness seems to be defending – an area that is also showing signs of improvement. More worrying for Bremen than his form is his future. Ozil’s current contract expires in 2011 and although he has been offered a new deal, the German international has stalled on giving an answer until the New Year – presumably seeing who will make an offer in January. Arsenal, Sevilla and Juventus are said to be possible suitors, but Ozil seems keen on a move to Barcelona. He is almost certain to be at the World Cup, but the identity of his employers come next summer’s extravaganza is still up for debate.
Full name– Mesut Ozil
Club– Werder Bremen
Age– 21 (October 15, 1988)
Nationality (Caps/goals)– German (7/1)
Previous clubs – RW Essen, Schalke
Position– Attacking midfield