Loved by the fans, but team-mates and bosses lost patience as his £350,000-per-week deal hamstrung the club amid a major political fall-out: The story of Mesut Ozil’s £54MILLION decline at Arsenal
- Midfielder Mesut Ozil won the FA Cup twice in his first two seasons at Arsenal
- He recorded 19 Premier League assists in 2015/16 to show his importance
- But a new £350,000-a-week contract signalled the beginning of the end for him
- Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta had ousted him and he now heads for Fenerbahce
The saga that has hung over Arsenal and their fans for so long has finally come to a limp end.
Mesut Ozil was the marquee signing when he arrived from Real Madrid on Transfer Deadline Day in 2013 for a then club-record fee of £42.5million, but leaves the club for Fenerbahce – which was confirmed as he held up the scarf of the club he supported as a boy after arriving in Istanbul on Sunday night – rather meekly through the back door following a high-profile yet ugly ousting from the squad.
Despite criticism of his performances against the bigger clubs, the 2014 Germany World Cup winner’s first four years at the Gunners saw him lift three FA Cups and record the second-most Premier League assists in a single season in 2015/16, leading him to earn a new three-and-a-half-year deal worth £350,000 per week in January 2018.
Mesut Ozil poses with a Fenerbahce scarf after touching down in Istanbul on Sunday night
Ozil earlier shared a snap of him and his family on a plane with Fenerbahce flags behind him
The Ozil saga at Arsenal is over with the midfielder departing to join Fenerbahce at last
Ozil has strong links to Istanbul and Turkey and departs after more than seven years in London
But since then his time at the Emirates Stadium has been fraught with lethargic performances and a frosty relationship with former boss Unai Emery, before Mikel Arteta froze him out of the picture completely by excluding him from the official Premier League and Europa League squads for the first half of this season.
With his move to the Turkish side now complete, how did it all come to this? How did a world-class creator’s status diminish so drastically?
Those are valid questions given the euphoria following his arrival seven-and-a-half years ago, not least from then boss Arsene Wenger.
‘He is a great player, with proven quality at both club and international level,’ the Frenchman said about the German’s arrival. ‘We have watched and admired him for some time as he has all the attributes I look for in an Arsenal player.’
Fans flooded onto the streets in north London and were infamously seen crowding around a Sky Sports News camera as word began to filter through of his arrival, and the first home game after his transfer against Stoke saw fans stand outside The Armoury club shop with his name and previous shirt No 11 on their backs.
His first Arsenal game was at Sunderland the week before, however, and 11 minutes in he appeared to demonstrate how he intended to go on, recording the first of his 77 assists for the club to set up Olivier Giroud for the opener in a 3-1 win.
There were low points to follow, with Per Mertesacker screaming at his compatriot after he failed to thank the travelling fans following their 6-3 defeat by Manchester City, and a loss of form and perceived lack of work-rate appeared to raise question marks about whether he was cut out to make it in England.
But the season ended with the German helping the club end their nine-year wait for a trophy with the 2014 FA Cup, having played a crucial role in the victory against Everton in the quarter-final.
There were low points in his first season too, with Per Mertesacker bellowing at him for not acknowledging Arsenal’s fans following a humbling defeat to Manchester City
However, he ended the season helping the club end their nine-year wait for a trophy, celebrating winning the FA Cup alongside German compatriot Lukas Podolski
Injuries and some inconsistency saw Ozil – now a World Cup winner with Germany – record just five goals and nine assists in 2014/15, but there were majestic moments too, including a delightful flicked assist for Giroud against Aston Villa, a first north London derby goal and helping the Gunners defend their FA Cup crown, but he really came to the fore the following season.
No player except Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne last season has matched the 19 assists Ozil recorded in the Premier League in 2015/16, and he was well on course to surpass – by some distance – the record of 20 that Gunners legend Thierry Henry achieved in 2002/03, having racked up 16 assists at the end of December.
But a 15-game goal drought for main striker Giroud and a faltering Arsenal title bid eventually saw Ozil add just another three to his tally. The return nevertheless highlighted his importance to Wenger’s side once again and with talk of Real Madrid having a buy-back option, focus quickly shifted to tying him down to a new deal.
The German began to run the show with Alexis Sanchez the following season as the Gunners once again threatened to make a title push, but a spectacular collapse in the second half of the campaign domestically, as well as the 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in Europe, meant the club would have no Champions League football for the first time in 21 years, and rumours around the star duo’s future began to circulate with more velocity, with just a year left on both players’ deals.
Ozil would form the heart of Arsenal’s team with Alexis Sanchez (left) and Santi Cazorla
Sanchez would depart for Manchester United in a disastrous swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan six months later, just a few weeks before Ozil signed that gargantuan £350,000-per-week deal that shattered the club’s wage structure and has since become so infamous.
The three men responsible for putting together the deal were Wenger, then chief negotiator Dick Law and then chief executive Ivan Gazidis. The latter two would leave Arsenal soon after.
While on the surface it appeared to represent a halt to the rot of letting their best players leave – and avoid the ignominy of losing Ozil for free – it in hindsight signalled one of Arsenal’s most significant financial mistakes of the previous decade.
‘You expect that he becomes the leader and takes responsibility to lead the team to success,’ said Wenger at the time. The legendary boss could never have imagined how badly that quote would age.
Ozil would only manage another seven goals and 13 assists in his final three years as an Arsenal player, and the reasons behind such a modest return appear endless.
The departure of Wenger, one of Ozil’s most distinguished advocates in management, threatened his position in the line-up with many questioning if his ability to create chances was enough on its own to merit a position without other facets to his game.
He signed a new deal in January 2018 but Arsene Wenger’s departure began his own downfall
That certainly appeared to be the case under Unai Emery, who replaced Wenger and was keen to help ‘rediscover the best Ozil’ but cracks appeared evident as soon as Emery’s first home game.
After being sacked, Emery slammed the German’s ‘attitude and commitment’ during his spell, something Gunners fans were equally furious about by the end of Emery’s first season too after the laid-back manner in which he walked off the pitch to be substituted in Baku with his side 3-1 down in the 2019 Europa League final against Chelsea.
Many called for Ozil to leave after the Gunners once again spectacularly failed to qualify for Europe’s elite tournament, and statistics of six goals and three assists from 35 games in all competitions showed those arguments to be justified.
Much as Arteta has done for the first half of this season, the German was then frozen out by Emery during the first half of last season but a horrible run of form saw the Spaniard forced to recall him to try and arrest the club’s slide.
The playmaker fell out with Wenger’s successor Unai Emery, who would go on to criticise him
Gunners fans agreed after his performance against Chelsea in the 2019 Europa League final
That failed to occur, as did Emery in staying in his job, and the appointment of Mikel Arteta following Freddie Ljungberg’s interim burst saw another manager attempt to get the best out of the midfielder.
Off-the-field issues had emerged too after Ozil criticised China’s treatment of ethnic Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, which saw the country retaliate by scrapping live coverage of some Arsenal games and him removed from the 2020 version of the Pro Evolution Soccer video game in China.
Whether the whole episode has contributed to his omission from Arsenal’s side since lockdown is still hotly debated among fans, but the German would still figure 12 times under Arteta between his comments and the Spaniard catching coronavirus, which brought football to a halt.
Mikel Arteta was named Emery’s permanent successor and Ozil initially enjoyed playing again
Off-field issues also came to the fore after he criticised China for how they were mistreating Uighur Muslims
The pandemic brought about another off-the-field issue involving the German, who was one of the Gunners stars who refused to take a 12.5 per cent pay cut to help the club deal with the outbreak, and claimed a few months later he did so because players were left in the dark in regards to the financial situation at the club.
Despite Arteta’s insistence on ‘pure footballing reasons’ for his omission, fans have been left equally perplexed if his wage-cut refusal is part of or the full reason behind why he has failed to feature since Project Restart, and why he was completely left out of this season’s Premier League and Europa League squads.
It appeared Arteta had opened the door to him featuring in the current campaign in pre-season when he claimed everyone started ‘with a clean slate’, but the prospect of him seeing out the rest of his deal without playing appeared a foregone conclusion by then.
Social media has become Ozil’s new hunting ground in recent months, holding fan Q&As on Twitter while also posting support for his team-mates via the platform, but those messages have not been without incident.
Seeing an excellent PR opportunity, he offered to pay the salary of Jerry Quy, the man who played the role of club mascot Gunnersaurus but was one of 55 redundancies announced by the club due to Covid-19, and since he has become embroiled in a Twitter spat with Piers Morgan as well as liking tweets asking to ‘free him’ from his outcast status.
Ozil’s final game for the club came against West Ham, when he assisted Alexandre Lacazette
But he has not played since and was left out of the Premier League and Europa League squads
Those calls had come with the Gunners having struggled for the majority of this season to create chances and score goals, but with the emergence of Emile Smith Rowe – a player Ozil has recently praised as the ‘difference maker’ – and links to Emiliano Buendia and Julian Brandt, the possibility of the 32-year-old returning to the squad have since diminished.
With just six months remaining on his contract at Emirates Stadium, Ozil’s chosen path leads him to Istanbul and Turkey, not only because his parents are of that nationality but also due to his friendship with controversial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was best man at his wedding in 2019.
His friendship with Erdogan stretches back more than a decade and a meeting with him alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Cenk Tosun prior to the 2018 World Cup caused a huge stir in Germany due to the president’s policies towards them.
Ozil has always felt settled in London – despite the attack on him and Sead Kolasinac last season from moped robbers – and is one of the reasons that for the last six months he has insisted he will see out his deal, but perhaps it is a city that believes the German has overstayed his welcome.
Turkey now calls for Ozil, where he has links due to his parents, who are both from there
The warmth towards him will still be strong in Turkey and the euphoria when welcomed commensurate to the grand reception he received in September 2013 in London.
Istanbul-based news outlet DHA reported that Ozil was ‘convinced’ to join Fenerbahce by Turkish media mogul and close friend Acun Ilicali. It has also been reported that Ozil is building a luxury villa next door to club president Ali Koc.
But Gunners fans have – despite a near eight-year stay at the club – once again been left wondering what could have been instead of reflecting happily on what was.
Ozil’s final appearance for Arsenal came on March 7 last year, providing the assist for Alexandre Lacazette’s winner against West Ham.
And while that reputation of being able to create chances with his eyes closed is the one he arrived with, he leaves with opinion in the Premier League largely based on the events ever since coronavirus struck around the world.
Since signing his £350,000-a-week contract, Ozil has been paid £53.9m, averaging £1.1m in wages per Premier League appearance and £4.9m per Premier League goal and assist. In that context it is hard to see him as anything but an obscenely overpaid outcast who failed to work hard enough to make the most of his talent.
He is also friends with president Recep Erdogan, who was his best man at his wedding
A meeting with Erdogan alongside Ilkay Gundogan (left) and Cenk Tosun (right) before the 2018 World Cup caused controversy in Germany
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