COMMENT: Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal with a sense of missed opportunities and regrets… we ought to be sorry to lose him in the Premier League
After eight years without a trophy and limited spending power, it was a sign that Arsenal were back in the big league.
To some extent they were. The FA Cup followed that season, though Ozil had been substituted in extra time when Aaron Ramsey scored the winning goal. He helped them defend the FA Cup in 2015 and win it again in 2017.
Mesut Ozil waved goodbye to Arsenal on Saturday, agreeing a termination of his contract
Ozil’s arrival at Arsenal for £42.5m was the sign the Gunners were back in the big league again
Arsenal hadn’t won a major trophy since 2005 and the likes of Ozil and Alexis Sanchez lifted them from being nearly men to winners again.
In 2014, at the peak of Ozil’s powers, he won the World Cup with Germany, a poster boy for integration as he posed with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Yet four years later he quit the German national team complaining of racism after a terrible World Cup, saying he was singled out for his Turkish heritage.
As he signed off from Arsenal on Saturday, it was with a sense of missed opportunities and regrets.
Ozil (right) leaves the Gunners after falling out of favour with manager Mikel Arteta (left)
Partly because the last two years, first under Unai Emery and then, after briefly hinting at a reconciliation, under Mikel Arteta, the relationship between club and player has been so acrimonious.
But it is also because he promised so much. Few have the ability to compare to Dennis Bergkamp as a No 10 — but Ozil did.
Despite that, he couldn’t bring back the Premier League title nor did he ever make an impact in the Champions League.
It was hard to shake off the verdict of a Real Madrid official, who told me presciently when he moved to London in 2013: ‘You never felt he quite delivered for us in the biggest games.’
Ozil (left) helped Arsenal to three FA Cups as the Gunners ended their trophy drought in style
Ozil inspired an almost crazed devotion from Arsenal fans. Some wished terminal disease on me and my family after I criticised him following a 5-1 defeat by Bayern Munich.
To question Ozil was to be branded a philistine, immune to the aesthetic delights of his play. And to watch him at his best was akin to appreciating fine art.
He was a wonderful player and Wenger’s romantic sensibilities meant he would be indulged. The moment Wenger left and the protection and love of a manager withdrawn, Ozil was a shadow of that player.
Yet he commanded the kind of salary only the best can demand. I interviewed him in 2017 when he spoke about his upbringing in a small flat in Gelsenkirchen amid the Turkish community. He joked about how scared he was of rats in the garage and that he spoke only Turkish until the age of four.
On the pitch and at his best, he was a joy to watch. We ought to be sorry to lose him
Ozil’s grandparents, miners from Zonguldak, had answered the call from West Germany for fresh labour in the 1960s.
He spoke more movingly about turning up at youth trials, being the best on the pitch but seeing tall blond boys with names like Mathias getting the call rather than Mesut.
Then you understood the true measure of Ozil, a World Cup winner who had battled prejudice to achieve more than he imagined.
With Ozil there will always be contradictions. Do you focus on the man who cosies up to Turkey’s President Erdogan, accused of numerous human rights abuses? Or do you laud the most-high profile advocate for Uighur Muslims in China?
Whatever, on the pitch and at his best, he was a joy to watch. We ought to be sorry to lose him.