Modern football: a game that has left Mesut Özil in the past
By Rob Worthington
Over the last couple of months, a number of online platforms have vividly illustrated that Mesut Özil is a player on the decline. Whilst I certainly cannot disagree with this line of argument, I do not agree with the popular perception that age is the pivotal reason for why Özil’s effectiveness in regard to creating chances and scoring goals has diminished. Instead, I believe that the evolution regarding the way top-flight football is played these days is the instrumental factor behind the decline of Mesut Özil. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side are the blueprint for how to be successful in this era of football. The Merseyside outfit’s game is heavily centred around hard running, high pressing, pace and quality delivery from wide areas. Quite frankly, Özil does not possess these traits.
Whilst the German usually does cover a lot of ground and puts up high ‘pressures’ numbers, he’s rarely seen carrying the ball forwards with great intent and his ‘pressure regains’ numbers are normally very low, meaning whilst he gets into positions to make defensive actions, he’s poor at carrying them out. Essentially, Mesut Özil simply wouldn’t be able to operate in this sort of intense, progressive playing style. However, if Özil was to play for a side like Liverpool or Manchester City, it is likely that he’d be asked to operate in a role known as a ‘mezalla’. Kevin De Bruyne is the player who best fits the bill for this playing position. De Bruyne is seen operating in the ‘half-spaces’ in wide areas on the right hand-side offensively whilst also having to contribute defensively, helping out the likes of Joao Cançelo and Kyles Walker at right-back, which sees him deployed as an attack-minded, box-to-box midfielder. Leicester City’s James Maddison plays a similar role for the Foxes on the left hand side.
When these players attack, their role is to be involved in dynamic combination play in these half-spaces with the full-back, whilst they also must be able to deliver pin-point early deliveries and be able to shoot on sight. Once again, Özil specialises in neither compartment and he doesn’t have the engine or defensive ability to support his full-back. The role of the attacking midfielder has clearly changed massively and Özil just does not have the characteristics required to play as a ‘mezalla’. Unfortunately, the time for gorgeous offensive football created around elegant number tens is in the past. The time when players such as Mesut Özil, Cesc Fàbregas, Alex Hleb and Dennis Bergkamp conducted footballing orchestras has been left behind. This is shown by the players who are seen getting the most assists in the Premier League at the moment.
Over the last few seasons, it has been impossible to even mention the word assist without the names of Andrew Robertson or Trent Alexander-Arnold springing to mind. These guys are not creative geniuses, the pair can both just deliver incredibly accurate deliveries from wide areas. The same can be said for the majority of De Bruyne’s assists. Producing magical assists from central areas, Mesut Özil’s speciality, just isn’t as common in offensive football anymore. The tiki take generation of European football first introduced to English football by Arsène Wenger in 1996 and championed by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side in 2011 has been conquered by Jürgen Klopp’s gengenpress. Yes, possession based football can still thrive, but it’s based off a cohesive pressing system.
It is undeniable that our number 10 was once one of the best attacking midfielders in world football, maybe even the best, but the role of the attacking midfielder has changed, and whilst several players have adapted to this, Mesut Ozil hasn’t. It is clear that the evolution of the game into modern day football has arrived at the expense of pure number tens such as Mesut Özil.