Mesut Ozil enjoys low-key welcome at Arsenal far removed from life with Real Madrid
Arsenal's record £42m signing trained with the team for the first time yesterday
Friday 13 September 2013
The contrast with Real Madrid could not have been clearer.
Mesut Ozil, the £42m club-record signing, was sat next to Arsène Wenger in the press room at Arsenal's London Colney training ground. There were no more than 80 people in the room, mainly journalists and club officials. The only red carpet was the old one on the floor. And this was Arsenal at their most ostentatious and extravagant, at their first player unveiling since Sol Campbell 12 years ago.
At Real Madrid they do things differently. The Santiago Bernabeu is opened and filled with fans. Stages and speakers are assembled, and their own special carpet laid down. They had one 10 days ago for Gareth Bale. In the summer of 2009 they had three.
Those unveilings are in the nature of Real Madrid, necessary displays of their glamour, their cachet and their pace of change. That last arrival, of Bale, led to Ozil's departure, even though some of the 30,000 fans greeting the Welshman sang to Real president Florentino Perez, "Don't sell Ozil". Perez responded with a finger to his lips. It might not always be obvious at Arsenal, but compared to Real Madrid, this is a far friendlier, calmer, gentler place.
"I have only heard positive things and know myself how this club is," said Ozil, through an interpreter. "It is a very familiar [welcoming] environment. The treatment here is very respectful. Everybody is very nice. It's very important for me to feel good here. This is where I will work day in, day out. This is what [fellow Germans Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski] told me. And they are right."
Ozil, like so many before him at Madrid, lasted a few years before the hierarchy grew bored and wanted new players. Madrid bought Bale and Isco, and Ozil was no longer first choice. So he decided to sign for someone where he would be, where he would be popular and wanted again, as Wenger told him in that now-famous phone call the weekend before last.
"That was the most important for us – what the manager thinks about me and what his plans are with me," explained Ozil. "I decided to come to Arsenal because I have the trust in this familiar environment here, this was the most important thing for us. He told me what he thinks about me and this was the reason I chose Arsenal."
Having contributed so much to Real – helping to win one cup and one league title in three seasons under Jose Mourinho – Ozil was not too pleased to be the subject of an apparent whispering campaign from Spain about his private life distracting him.
"I don't want to say anything bad about Madrid because I had three wonderful years there," Ozil said. "That's why I don't want to talk a lot about it. People who know me know how professional I am and in the past three years, you can see how many games I played – 159. If you're not professional in your life then I don't think you can play that many games. People know how professional I am and this is what counts. You can see by the reaction of the fans and the players that they didn't understand the move. But this is football."
It was an impressive body of work in Spain, and Ozil is confident he will be just as successful in England. "I played in the Bundesliga and in La Liga and I have always proved myself, and I know I will prove myself here as well."
Wenger was certainly confident about Ozil's integration on the pitch, saying that he had attributes – "movement, technical ability and creativity" – perfectly attuned to Arsenal's game. When he makes his debut at Sunderland tomorrow he will play behind the striker, with no conflict expected with Jack Wilshere, who Wenger expects to use in deeper positions. "Jack likes to come deep to take the ball and make a difference, and then give and go again. Ozil is higher up on the field."
Arsenal's midfield, for too long, has had more talent than conviction but Wenger is sure that Ozil will impose himself on games and, in time, become a "dominant player. He has the personality to express his game, which is the most important. He is a creative player, and that's what we want – to express his talent and develop it."
Both Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie grew into world-class players at Arsenal, although of course neither of them is still there now. But Ozil spoke warmly about how players improve at Arsenal and hoped that he could develop in the same way. "I know that the step here is the right one for me because many young players came here and got better and got to become the best players in the world," Ozil said. "This is why I want to go my way here. I want to continue to improve myself."
Wenger, whose team has lacked elite quality since Van Persie was sold, wants the same thing. "Ozil is at a good age, he is 25 in October," he said. "He is already a great player. There's room now between 25 and 30 for him to become a dominant player and to make a step up from that. You have to find the right club at the right moment."
Ozil is confident that he has. "I'm at Arsenal now, which is one of the biggest clubs in the world. I think I will find my way here."
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