04 September 2014

Özil introduces himself to Welbeck...

With one round of international friendlies over, players checked in with their clubs, getting massages, updates from phyisos and managers, and—in some cases—meeting new teammates. So it was at London Colney when Danny Welbeck stopped in to get reacquainted with a training ground he knew a bit of from training with the Three Lions, but it was still with some trepidation that he went into the locker room. Would he be greeted as a conquering hero or ignored as a consolation prize. Most of the lads were preoccupied, sorting their kits and all, and a tentative Welbeck made his way to a vacant locker to stake his claim. As he was starting to unpack. he felt a presence behind him. There was no sound, just...a presence. Almost intangible...but...there, somehow.

"Theo, what is it like to play with Özil?"
"It's still a bit of a dream, mate..."
     Welbeck turned, surprised and on guard, ready to explain if not assert himself. He looked up to find himself looking full into the face of none other than Mesut Özil."Oh—Mr., um, Urzle, I—"
     "Relax, Daniel. A thousand pardons, but it would be oh-zeel. Nevermind that, now. Call me Mesut. Meh-zut. It is good to meet you."
     A still-uncertain Welbeck took the proffered hand and shook it, surprised by the humility and warmth implied. "Thanks, um, Mesut. It's good to be here. I've been here before, but it was, um, different. I don't know how to explain it, quite. The stakes were lower, I think?"
      Özil chuckled softly. "Yes, Dan, I know what you mean. The expectations, the—how is it said?—the hopes here are quite high. I know this even after I played in Spain, where the trophies came so easily that I was ashamed when we didn't win at least one for each season."
     "What was it like for you, at first? You know, switching leagues and countries? It must have been hard."
     Özil swallowed and looked down for a moment. Welbeck, sensing tensions, looked away. "Dan. I will not lie. It was hard. People expected me to lead." He swallowed again. "This is not my game. I am not the one who leads. It is not my name we see in the headline. I...I do not want this 'limelight' they speak of. It is not for me."
     Welbeck leaned in closer, sensing a vulnerability and an invitation. "What is it you want, then?"
     Özil sighed. "I want someone who enjoys running in behind the defense, someone who can run like the antelope."
     Welbeck's pupils dilated.
     "I want someone who can receive a pass and put a shot on-frame. Maybe even in the net."
     Welbeck 's jaw went slack.
     "I used to play with forwards who liked these things, who I knew were timing a run to get to the ball before anyone else. Daniel, I want to pour forward. I want to out-run the defense." Özil clenched his jaw as he looked way. Several seconds passed before he looked to Welbeck, jaw firmly set. "I am tired of us making many passes around the edge of the box. I pass to Santi, Santi passes back to Mikel, Mikel passes over to Mathieu, he passes to Aaron. It is all very boring, like playing Barcelona, only without Messi to make it all work...um..."
     "Retroactively?" Welbeck offered, helpfully.
     "Yes, 'retroactively' is I think the word." At that, Özil leaned in and locked his gaze on Welbeck. "Daniel."
     "How do you like running in behind defenders for a pass?"
     Welbeck paused, considering his options. "I like it well enough, I suppose. Who would I pass it to once I track it down?"
     "You would go on to—what? 'Pass it on?'"
     "That's how it goes, innit? I collect the pass; then, I turn and pass it to someone else?"
     Özil's jaw dropped. "I—um—I guess so, if that is your choice."
     "My choice?" Welbeck's brow furrowed. "Do you mean to tell me that I could just turn and shoot, just like that, no questions asked?"
     This time, it was Özil's brow that furrowed. "Well, of course, if that is what seems best to you. Do you not like to score goals?"
     "Well, no, it's not that. It's just that—well, I've gotten used to...I've grown accustomed to, um, creating for others. Y'know, guys who are more experienced. More expensive, I guess. They've earned it, after all, haven't they?"
     Özil put both hands up as if to say 'stop right there.' "That's not what we're about here, Dan. We don't depend on one man. It's taken me some time to learn that. We don't bow down to one player. This is a team, top to bottom. Here, we win or lose together. I had to unlearn a few habits to fit in here. Maybe you will to. Here, they don't seem to care who it is who scores. They just want to score. At some other clubs, I think, they want one certain player, maybe two, to do the scoring of goals."
     Welbeck looked up, and his eyes locked with Özil's. "You mean, I can score if I see a chance? I don't have to pass it to some kind of—"
     "galactico?" Özil's grin was contagious and conspiratorial.
     Welbeck took a moment to contemplate this. The wheels started to spin. I...could...I...could.... flourish here, his mind raced, I don't have to defer or dominate. I could just play.Maybe even win and feel like I've earned it, feel like I've contributed to something...
     Welbeck snapped back to attention and looked at Özil. "I'm sorry. I was just...envisioning."
     "Yes, Daniel. So am I."