09 July 2014

Özil botches things...again. Could Sánchez save him?

Well, this is embarrassing. Barely three days after offering up this measly defense of Özil, I find myself having to eat my words. Not only did the £42m-man fail to score on not one but two gilt-edged chances, he registered but a solitary assist on a night when Germany could have scored ten goals but settled for a lucky seven. Even then, his assist, which came on Germany's fifth goal, was so superfluous as to barely warrant a mention. At this point, I don't know what was more embarrassing, but I have three options: one, Brazil's performance. Two, Özil's failure to have any meaningful impact on a match in which something like five new records were set. Three, my apparent inability to understand that only those who score these goals have any meaningful impact on a match.

First, of course, we must admit that Germany's domination of Brazil exposes the lie that Özil is the "master of the assist." After all, of Germany's seven goals, only one was assisted by Özil. Pathetic. The one assist he did manage to register only came when he chickened out of shooting, choosing in the 29th minute to pass to Khedira rather than shoot for himself. Clearly, this Özil character is little more than a charlatan, a snake-oil salesman who has beguiled us all. For those who doubt this incontrovertible conclusion, fast-forward to the 90th minute, when, through on goal, Özil fluffed his shot, sending it almost as wide as Giroud does, instead of nailing it to make it 8-0.

Oh. Wait. It turns out that there's more to winning a match than banging it in. Before we go any further, I first of all apologize, not for rehashing a post from three days ago, but for responding to this article in The Independent. It's not that they've done a bad job; it's just that they've missed the mark. They call him "petulant." They accuse him of "bluntly" refusing to meet requirements or expectations. However, where they lose me is when they bring in Ronaldo and his reference to Özil as "the Sorcerer's Apprentice." This, of course, makes Ronaldo the Sorcerer. For those unfamiliar, the apprentice most likely refers to the Disney movie Fantasia, in which the apprentice is the inept, overwhelmed Mickey Mouse who unknowingly conjures up magic broomsticks far too numerous for him to control. Leave it to Ronaldo to offer a back-handed compliment.

If anything, Özil is the sorcerer himself, although he may harken back to such wizards and warlocks as we might find in The Lord of the Rings. Like Gandalf, he empowers others, then steps back to see how well they rise to the challenge. For three seasons, he did so with a very capable "apprentice" in the form of Ronaldo, forging his own reputation in the shadows cast by Ronaldo's very large ego and accomplishments. In this set-up, Özil looks like the master of his domain, both by virtue of Ronaldo's prowesse and that of the feeble opposition so often on offer from the rest of La Liga. Fast-forward to the Prem, where only the likes of Fulham and Liverpool play the kind of toreador defense so popular in Spain, and, suddenly, Özil's magic-act seems to consist more of disappearances than of conjurings. What's more, a pass to Giroud, no matter how deftly delivered, has far less a chance of finding the back of the net than does the same pass offered to Ronaldo or Müller. That is not the fault of Özil. He will not be the first, nor will he be the last, to suffer the incompetence of those around him.

At Arsenal, he has been thrust into the withering spotlight as the next incarnation of Henry, Bergkamp, and Pirès, all at the same time. This is not his role, nor is it his personality.  He is the puppeteer, the one who pulls strings invisible to all of us but that control those around him. Give him a puppet to manipulate, and, from behind curtains, Özil will make that marionette come to life. Bring him front and center—a penalty against Bayern, through on goal against Brazil—and perhaps he freezes up. Put him back behind the curtain, pulling those strings—luring defenders this way, creating space for teammates that way—and he casts his spells.

Thus far, Giroud and others have risen to those spells unevenly. What might Özil conjure with Walcott on one wing and Sánchez on the other? We don't yet know, of course, whether one or the other will actually be available, but it's mouth-watering to think of one or both running onto passes threaded, ever so delicately, between or behind defenders, for finishes galore. If you don't like the magician/puppeteer analogies, please consider that Özil is not the waiter who delivers the food. He is the chef who prepares it. As such, we rarely get to see the master at work. We only appreciate it when the waiter does his job.

Would that I could, I would arrange a bit of a Ludovico Technique, forcing those who don't quite get it to watch only Özil, all the time. When we watch a match, we tend to follow the ball. Özil is all too happy to slip away into the shadows, allowing the defender(s) to slip into a somnambulant torpor, only for him to reappear, if only for a split-second, to draw out yet another defender or receive a pass and one-touch it to a spot where only a team-mate can touch it. As Gooners, we have frequently lamented how frequently certain handsome French strikers have dropped the ball. Could Sánchez be the man who helps us to remember the chef that is Özi?

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