SportBild and the Sunday Mirror have reported that Mesut Özil joining Manchester United next summer is a possibility. In the crashing and banging about Alexis Sanchez’s stalemate with Arsenal, the German’s own contract situation has been drowned out.
This is a rumour we have heard before. The cynics can see the ease that such a link can be made given the friendship between Özil and Jose Mourinho. No player divides opinion and provokes debate quite like the former Real Madrid man, and this rumour will have polarised a fair few fans from Arsenal and Manchester United.
Now Sanchez’s Manchester City saga has settled, Özil’s contractual uncertainty will become the main headline maker. His divisiveness makes him an even better headline than Sanchez at the moment, and the reality for Arsenal begins to settle in: they are losing their two best players.
Özil will readily be referred to as a World Cup winner by his backers. His body language is bemoaned by his detractors. Whichever side of the Özil fence you position yourself on, the fact he is so unlikely to sign a new contract is painful for Arsenal. Along with Sanchez, the former Werder Bremen man was meant to pull Arsenal out of the slumber of the early Emirates years, but the Gunners are set to lose the duo for no return in a few months time.
He was a marquee addition for Arsenal, and will be for whoever he joins in the summer of 2018.
When he left Real Madrid, Özil was regarded as the best number 10 in world football. He had racked up assists at a terrific rate alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The German was in the bracket of players that top clubs should sign if they are available whatever the cost, because that’s what you do for the very best.
His stock has fallen dramatically since then. Chances are still created at a superb rate, but the downsides to his game have been exaggerated. While his performances are not so different as they were at the Santiago Bernabeu, he is not the best in his position anymore.
Step in the right direction
Choosing to leave Arsenal is a bold step. The reported contracts offered would inflate his wages greatly, and Özil could comfortably see out his career as a star at the Emirates. Deciding to depart shows he believes he needs to reignite his own game, and that is best done away from Arsenal. Perhaps most notably, away from Arsene Wenger.
Moving should not be criticised. At this point, though, the circumstances at Arsenal are not so dire that any move should rejuvenate Özil’s career. As a free agent next summer, the German will probably have a wide range of options. Making the right move is the key, and that may well mean leaving the Premier League altogether.
Manchester United are the only English team who have reportedly been interested in Özil to date. Mourinho rates him highly, but we all know the charismatic Portuguese manager has a ruthless streak almost unrivalled in club management. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba all function in a similar space. Özil would be far from irreplaceable.
Balancing the risk
Joining one of the world’s biggest clubs could be the perfect platform for Arsenal’s playmaker to return to his best. It is riddled with risk at this point, however. Competition for minutes in his favoured role is significant, and the now-clichéd criticisms will only intensify with another Premier League move.
The move is flawed for Mourinho, too. His attacking options are already amongst the best in Europe, and offering a mega contract to Özil would only cloud the selection issues he has in the final third. An argument could be made for different offensive reinforcements, but Özil is a temptation that Manchester United can afford to – and should – resist.
Even though Arsenal have hardly been inundated with offers for the 86-cap German international, free agency will bring opportunities. With a boost in his wages not enough to keep him at Arsenal, this decision is a straight career move. It is a chance for Özil to prove that his best days are not gone, and – most significantly of all – that his time as the best attacking midfielder in the world can return.
Özil, almost a last resort
Manchester United should have other priorities. Özil will benefit from a move away from the Premier League, away from the spotlight that has forced him into the unenviable role of scapegoat for every Arsenal shortcoming. If he is flexible with his salary requirements, chances will open up. A role as an integral member of a counter-attacking team will be perfect, and will be the best opportunity for Özil to truly flourish.
Manchester United have the money to take a chance on Özil on a free transfer. Their resources can be spent far better elsewhere next summer, however, and the attacking midfielder should be looking to join a team without the embarrassment of creative riches that Mourinho currently has.
It could be a perfect outcome. But, Ozil to Manchester United should be far from first choice for either party.