Mesut Özil

Turn the other cheek
Mesut Ozil on ignoring the critics and  finding his peace on the pitch

Everyone in the game knows you cannot please everyone all of the time, and has to learn to deal with criticism no matter how harsh it may sometimes be.

 

Ozil’s treatment has been severe, even by the normal standards, yet the 30-year-old is still expected to ignore all the sniping and produce the goods for Arsenal in a position where playing with freedom is vital to his impact on a game.

 

So just how does former Germany international manage to separate himself from the circus that has followed him off the field?

 

“Look, I know there's people out there that like me, there are also people who don't like me,' he says.

 

“This is a fact of life. But, for me, what is important is what the people in my inner circle tell me.

 

“I don’t care what people say outside of that. It doesn’t affect me.

 

“If the coach, or people in my circle, tell me: ‘Mesut you have to do this, or have to do that’ then I listen. I’ll take that and work on it.

 

“But I don’t look at what someone else is saying. It really doesn’t affect me.”

 

For whatever reason throughout a career which has seen him play in three of Europe’s biggest leagues, Ozil appears to have become a scapegoat when things haven’t gone well for his sides.

His time at Real Madrid brought a La Liga title, but also criticism over his impact during a tumultuous period of conflict within the club. At Arsenal, that has been accelerated as much by a lack of understanding of his languid style and perhaps jealousy over his latest multi-million pounds contract.

 

And worse of all, at international level despite being a celebrated World Cup winner it was he who bore the brunt of Germany’s failings at Russia 2018 – largely based on his Turkish roots rather than any reasoned analysis of why the country flopped.

 

“I am German when we win, an immigrant when we lose,” said Ozil as he cited what he perceived as discrimination behind his decision to quit playing for his country.

 

Ozil’s ability to shrug off the critics perhaps comes from the lessons he learned as a child growing up in a multi-cultured area of the industrial German city Gelnsenkirchen.

 

For him, football was his escape from the harsh divisions of real life.

 

“The neighbourhood I grew up in was one where lots of foreigners had settled. Not just Turks but people from all over: Lebanese, Middle Eastern, African, a real mixture.

“It maybe wasn’t the nicest neighbourhood or the prettiest but I had so many friends living nearby, friends from all those different backgrounds, and that meant I loved my childhood there.

 

“Some families in my neighbourhood occasionally went through difficult times and football was the answer for us kids. It was an escape for us.

 

“You loved playing because it meant you had no problems. You would stand on the pitch and football would be the only thing.

 

“It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor or if you were German or Turkish. Football united us and we’d always be in such a good mood afterwards.”

 

There were challenges aplenty for Ozil as a child, growing in a family struggling against poverty. And away from the glare of publicity, he has quietly donated much time and money towards helping out those in similar situations.

 

He paid for 23 youngsters in Brazil to have medical operations having won the World Cup in the country in 2014, and has also linked up with the Asian Football Development Project to visit a refugee camp in Jordan.

 

Those experiences appear to have had a lasting impact and allowed Ozil the freedom to separate himself from the critics. Deep down, to him, football is still just the game he used to play with his friends in a cage for hours on end.

 

He added: ‘I went to the refugee camp in Zatari (Jordan) to see the kids to see if I can give them a great moment, that was one of the biggest experiences that touched me, it changed me.

 

‘I love football, football is my passion — that’s why I’m playing. My hobby became my profession and I love being out on the pitch.

 

‘But I know there’s a life outside the pitch. When I go home, or after a game then I’m in a normal life, if I can give something back then I will do.’