The Downfall of Mesut Özil

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Issue 9, Volume 111

By Shafiul Haque 

Mesut Özil is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of the 21st century. The attacking midfielder has racked up many personal and team accolades throughout his career, serving as a creative outlet to spark the attack. Özil won the 2014 World Cup with Germany and has ranked on top in the assists charts for La Liga and the Premier League. However, Özil’s recent predicament at Arsenal is hindering his game ability and could draw his career to an untimely end.

This season, Özil was excluded from Arsenal’s 25-man Premier League and Europa League squad. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has said little to the public on the issue. Some worry that his exclusion was due to his activism on the harsh treatments of Uyghur Muslims in China. Others have speculated that the club’s financial board is angered that Özil refused a 12.5 percent pay cut on his $350000 weekly salary amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s important to recognize that Özil’s fall from prominence has been years in the making.

Özil’s struggles at Arsenal began in the early stages of the 2018-19 Premier League season. After being named as one of the club’s captains, he suffered from back and knee problems, which caused a dip in his form. Additionally, then-manager Unai Emery excluded him from the matchday squad on several occasions, leading many to believe that Özil would depart in the January window. However, no move for the German materialized, and Özil’s relationship with Emery continued to worsen. His role in the team changed from being a leader on the pitch to simply a role player. Disappointingly, Arsenal ended the domestic season in fifth place, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the second season in a row. Özil had one of the poorest seasons of his career statistically, with only six goals and three assists in 35 appearances.

After Arsenal’s poor end to the season, Özil voiced his frustration with Emery in front of his teammates. His fallout with the manager led fans to once again believe that Özil would leave the club, but he continued to fight for his place in the team. At the beginning of the 2019-20 season, Özil was the victim of an attempted robbery and given a break before he could play games. Instead of discussing Özil's apparent issue, Emery continued to consistently leave him out of the match squad well after the incident. Arsenal began the campaign in dreadful form, with three wins out of 13 matches. The club fired Emery in hopes of coming back from these losses, and he was eventually replaced by former player Mikel Arteta. Many loyal supporters hoped that the new coach would revive Özil’s dull form. However, Arteta’s appointment only worsened Özil’s prospects of a glorious return.

Özil spoke up about the cruel treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in China in December 2019, criticizing other Muslim countries for not speaking up on the issue. Arsenal, which has a prominent fanbase in China, distanced themselves from his statement, declaring, “The content published is Özil’s personal opinion, [and] Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.” Arsenal began to suffer financial losses, with Chinese broadcasters removing Arsenal games and merchandise from the country. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Özil has failed to make a single appearance for Arsenal. Unlike all the other Arsenal players, Özil refused to take a pay cut because of the virus, stating that “people have been trying for two years to destroy me.” His refusal caused the club to freeze him out, as they hoped he would request a transfer or wait for his contract to expire within the next year.

After Özil was left unregistered for the current 2020-21 season, many fans accepted that his time at the club is finally over. His attitude problems with the managers, political controversy, and loss of form are all factors in why he has fallen off the soccer scene. Looking toward the future, Super Lig club Fenerbahçe S.K. and MLS clubs DC United and Inter Miami CF have expressed interest in the German. Özil’s contract is set to expire in six months; alternatively, he might terminate his contract in order to get back to playing.

Both Özil and the club should have tried to communicate and work out their conflicts with each other. Arsenal has clearly suffered in the last few years, falling well short of expectations, and Özil is not the same talented player he was at his young age. For now, with Özil’s time at Arsenal all but over, fans can only wonder what is in store for his future.