During the summer transfer window, Alexis Sanchez was one of the most talked about footballers. There was interest from several big European clubs, with the majority of those then stepping aside because they knew their chances were slim.
Eventually, a Manchester City transfer became the most likely scenario for an exit, but Arsenal stood firm and denied Sanchez the move, despite the player reportedly telling his Chile teammates the deal was agreed.
Whilst all this was going on, there wasn’t much fuss around Mesut Ozil. The odd Turkish rumour would pop up, he’d be mentioned when his turn on the Inter Milan rumour merry-go-round came, but there wasn’t exactly a clamour of clubs ready to knock down Arsenal’s door.
Of course, Europe’s biggest could have been working in silence, but whilst there’s often transfer smoke without fire, transfer fire without smoke is much rarer.
Over the past month or so, claims have built of a potential transfer to Manchester United. At the beginning of September, SportBild published a big piece on ‘Der Ozil-Plan’ and stated Arsenal renewal talks hadn’t been held since early this year.
Both Manchester United and Barcelona had been blocked in approaches for the player, claimed the German magazine.
This was then twisted by several English newspapers and many English websites into SportBild claiming Ozil wanted a Manchester United transfer, that it was him pushing for it. Despite SportBild not claiming anything of the sort, the story built and ended up around the European media.
The truth didn’t stand a chance.
Since then Ozil and Manchester United has very much been a story, popping up every few days in one form or another. The latest is that Ozil is so keen and confident about a Manchester United move that he’s already told his Arsenal teammates.
Let’s just suppose that’s true, a player being so cocksure he’d brag about joining a rival would to an extent underline why Ozil and Arsenal perhaps aren’t a good mix right now. It’s one thing if Alexis Sanchez feels that way, but he’s a very different creature to the German international.
When Ozil has Robert Pires, a regular at Arsenal’s training ground, calling him a warrior and making excuses for him, it further underlines the wall of protection which has somehow become a cocoon of complicity.
There are Arsenal fans who have dug themselves so deep into trenches defending Ozil that what’s actually happening, the player’s actual contribution, is somewhat irrelevant. Because every negative would have a balancing reason which would in turn remove discredit from Ozil and banish the chance of them ever having to admit they may have been wrong.
It becomes less about Ozil and more about an individual being right, and is something which isn’t new for Arsenal. Some fans spent so long defending a lack of success by heralding style, stats and spending, that it became ingrained in the culture of the club.
And ‘it’s not his fault, everyone’s out to get him’ is now ingrained in the culture of Mesut Ozil.
This is where Jose Mourinho comes in. The Manchester United manager would take a bulldozer to the protection around Ozil and try to do again what he’s done once before.
In March, with Arsenal in their usual simmering crisis, Ozil released a book and a steady stream of quotes came from Germany. A spat with Mourinho was the most entertaining snippet, and a story was told of Jose giving Mesut both barrels at half time during a Real Madrid match.
“You think two beautiful passes are enough,” Mourinho yelled. “You think you’re so good that fifty percent is enough.”
The footballer set the scene: ‘He pauses. Stares at me with his dark brown eyes. I stare back. Like two boxers at the stare-down before the first round. He shows no emotion. Just waits for a response from me. How much I hate him right now. And I love Mourinho actually.’
Ozil claims he threw his shirt at Mourinho and told him to play instead, and the manager responded: “Oh, are you giving up now? You’re such a coward. What do you want? To creep under the beautiful, warm shower? Shampoo your hair? To be alone? Or do you want to prove to your fellow players, the fans out there, and me, what you can do.
“You know what, Mesut. Go ahead and cry! You’re such a baby going to take a shower. We do not need you.”
Realising the manager was right, Ozil accepts it was a valuable career lesson. And it’s one he could almost certainly benefit from again.
The quotes are Ozil’s version of events, there’s every chance what actually happened was far more cutting from Mourinho and close enough to the bone to take a shaving off it.
Some Manchester United fans have long held a flame for Ozil, ever since the rumours he was at Carrington having a medical, before actually swapping Werder Bremen for Real Madrid.
Signing Ozil from Arsenal on a free would hold some attraction for United fans, but it wouldn’t be the huge bombshell of Robin van Persie, which shows the difference in the impact of the two men.
The need for Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil in a Jose Mourinho squad is questionable, so one would likely have to give. That’s doable, and if Mourinho is attracted then the chance to show Arsene Wenger how it’s done will surely be a further motivation.
To take a player who somewhat personifies the good and bad of Arsenal and Wenger, and turn him into a Mourinho animal again, and, as Jose’s intention would be, to make him successful, that would raise a Portuguese smile.
But it would be a risk. Mourinho betting on Ozil could damage the Old Trafford project and end up looking like a vanity signing, made more to show the prowess of the manager than help the squad and develop players within it.
For Ozil, it wouldn’t be such a bad roll of the dice, further stagnating Up North could be passed off on a whole number of things, and those Arsenal fans still deep in their trenches would help the German out. It’s Jose’s fault.
If the rocket-up-the-behind went well, then Ozil’s grey period could, and probably would, be widely dismissed as an Arsenal thing, regardless of the actual reasons.
Mesut Ozil needs Jose Mourinho and both his barrels more than Manchester United specifically need the player.