The MSR Advent calendar: Our favorite signings that never happened: Door 1 – Mesut Özil
Hidden behind door 1 is Mesut Özil. Yes, you have read correctly. I chose Mesut Özil because of my personal high regard for the player. Throughout his career, the former international player was perhaps the most controversial player among the fans of the German national team. The reasons for this were very as varied as they were complex.
But the fact that Özil was not just a controversial figure off the pitch, but also on it and that he was regularly deemed to fall somewhat short of world class as a football player is still one of the biggest mysteries to me today. Especially in the early stages of the past decade, Özil was one of the three best, perhaps even the best playmaker in the world.
His vision, his decision-making, his technique, his feeling for spaces, above all his distribution and the quality of his passing game – Özil had everything needed to propel his team’s attacking game to the next level. He has been able to do things on the pitch that few people in the history of German football have been able to in this form.
And so it came as little surprise that he joined Real Madrid in 2010. But it was also not surprising that even under a coach like José Mourinho, who attaches great importance to the game against the ball, he was one of the most important players of his team.
Özil, Ronaldo and Benzema formed an unbelievably powerful triangle in attack and played a decisive role in Real not only becoming champions in the 2011/12 season, but even setting a record for points won (100) and goals scored (121). Özil might have reached his peak at that time just before he left Real for Arsenal in 2013, a change that made Real’s one man life insurance Cristiano Ronaldo very angry. He continued to play at world-class level in London, but also arguably lost prestige because of his relegation to a second-tier European club in comparison to Real. To this day, Özil has achieved incredible figures in all the statistics relevant to his position.
Contrary to his reputation, he built his stats not only against smaller teams, but often in the big and important matches.
In 2010, Bayern were Champions League finalists and won the domestic double. The following season proved to be a bumpy one, probably not least because they rested a little on their laurels. The transfer policy in particular was somewhat negligent.
At the time, I would have very much liked Özil to join Bayern. The transfer fee of €18m would have been possible for the club to pay, and for the first time in ages they would have been able to get a central offensive playmaker with a well rounded blend of skill and experience. Could they have signed him instead of Real? Difficult. But there was probably not even the attempt.
I am convinced that van Gaal could have integrated Özil’s type of player very well and that Özil would have played at world-class level in Munich as well.
However, one must also realistically admit that Thomas Müller was already a constant fixture in Bayern’s first XI at that time. What this did to players like James Rodríguez or Coutinho is well known. It is quite possible that Özil and Müller would not have complemented each other well playing behind a thoroughbred striker like Gómez or Mandzukic. Toni Kroos also tended to play high up the pitch at the time, although it was apparent that he could also bring his strengths to bear in deeper areas. So the main problem would have been the competition with Müller.
On the other hand, both of Müller and Özil became world champions in important roles playing together. The risk for Bayern would probably have been acceptable for the reported transfer fee and competition makes very good players even better.
There is an outside chance that van Gaal would even have established a new system in which two rather central playmakers would find their place. But then the question would have been which of Müller or Özil play in their arguably stronger inside right channel.
In the end, things went well for both of them. Bayern won the treble with Müller, and Özil successfully played for years on an extremely high level elsewhere – even if he did not get the corresponding recognition.
I am nevertheless convinced that Özil would have silenced his doubters at Bayern. I am certain to this day that the aversion to the footballer Özil arises primarily from a dislike of him as a person and his assumed personality, and that many have not followed him and his football abroad in sufficient detail. Nevertheless, FC Bayern’s fate obviously did not depend on his signing at the time, but to see such a gifted player in the ranks of FC Bayern would have been my wish.
In contrast to many others, I have followed Mesut Özil’s career on the pitch with great pleasure. His magic will remain a mystery to many forever. For me, in turn, it will remain an enigma forever. What Özil has done off the pitch over the years is a subject that cannot be fully explored in this short series of articles. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that I am not unhappy, to say the least, that it was not a Bayern player who not only had himself photographed with a despot, but is good mates with him.