April 11st 2015 – Emirates Bernabeu Connection

August 31. 2013, transfer deadline day (the best transfer deadline day ever) will be remembered in the hearts of Gooners and Madristas alike for years to come, if not forever. Arsenal, after not signing anyone the whole summer besides Mathieu Flammini, so essentially no one, smashed their previous transfer record to bring in the mercurial Mesut Ozil for 42.5 million pounds. Ozil’s departure from Real Madrid, a club at which he had arguably become the best number 10 in the world, resulted in Madrid completing the transfer saga of Gareth bale, signing him for upwards of 85 million. Suddenly Ozil looked expendable with Bale arriving after his rampant form in the premier league the season before, scoring 21 goals from 33 matches. Stunning. Although Ozil’s signing came with much optimism from Arsenal supporters, due to him recording a staggering 68 assists in La Liga over his three years at Madrid, it was met with just as much, if not more expectation. Instead of seeing Ozil as a more passing oriented Bergkamp, blessed with perfect vision, precise passing and an exquisite touch; many supporters and members of the English press saw him as more than the spark on the pitch for Arsenal, but a new leader and talisman. The English press wanted Ozil to be Bale, drive the team on and score memorable goals, pursuing this further, the premier league lost a highlight machine in Bale who drew in fans and brought so much excitement. Therefore, there was an added expectation amongst the press that Ozil could recreate the same type of magic Bale brought last season. But this is just not who Ozil is as a person or a player.

With him in the team, there’s always a better fluidity and flow to the game; a better rhythm to the game because he’s safe in possession,” he added. “He may not create as many chances as he would like, but it’s a team game and the team functions well at the moment. It’s all about the balance.” (Former Liverpool midfielder German international Dietmar Hamann).

Rather, Ozil is a calm, composed, and elegant team oriented player who instantly makes other around him better and does the little things, the one touch passes so brilliantly, Ozil’s play is appreciated most by the keen observer, not the casual fan. Ozil can bring a teammate into the game with the deftest of touches and is so great at finding those pockets of space between the backline and holding midfielders. However he won’t be rocketing any 30-yard screamers into the top corner any time soon (as much as I would love him too).

“If I had to compare Ozil with someone I played with in my career, I think I would say that he has a bit of Zinedine Zidane in him, in terms of vision, touch and genius to make others play around him.” (Robert Pires)

After a brilliant opening six games, Ozil began to receive criticism when he would fail to leave a substantial mark on the game. Even if his overall play was of high quality, if there was no goal or assist, fans and the media weren’t happy. Ozil’s nonchalant demeanor, appreciated by many in Spain, raised many questions in England, this was especially clear after Arsenal’s exit against Bayern Munich in the Champions League in which Ozil missed a penalty in the first leg, and couldn’t make an impact in the second. So much anger and criticism was aimed at Ozil after the match that one journalism began an article afterwards like so,

“Glance at any back page this morning and you would be forgiven for thinking that Mesut Ozil single-handedly walked the ball into Arsenal’s net, slapped Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright in the face, got hooked at half-time and broke Arsene Wenger’s favourite troublesome zip.”

Although Ozil totaled 14 goals and 7 assists throughout his first premier league season he was constantly criticized by arsenal fans and the press for “disappearing,” or not turning up for matches, not looking involved or emotional enough and often criticized for his lack of effort, being labeled as lazy and weak by many. Ozil tends to show little or no emotion while on the pitch, letting his play do the talking rather than inspiring and pushing on those around him, which wound up fans and pundits even more, who are used to passionate physical premier league football. Similarly, there was a major physical shift Ozil had to adjust too moving from La Liga to the Prem and it should be remembered that it takes times for players to get used to such a distinct style.

“There is much more of a physical test here than there is in Spain or in the Bundesliga – I constantly have bruises, but that makes me harder. I feel physically better than ever.'” (Mesut Ozil)

Following a successful World Cup in which Ozil received a winners medal and started every game, even more expectation was heaped upon him to be not only Arsenal’s best player, but to add more goals to his game, lead the team towards further glory following a F.A Cup victory and start dominating each game like past Arsenal Legends like Henry, Pires, Bergkamp. However after playing only a handful of games, Ozil tore his Meniscus leading him to be out of the side until the start of February; upon return Ozil not only looked significantly stronger after making improvements in the weight room, but looked more motivated to win not only each game, but each possession. Since returning from injury Ozil has been as fluid as ever, showing flashes of brilliance on a more consistent basis en route to recording 3 goals and 5 assists in 14 games, with an average rating of 7.56 in the premier league, brilliant. Its clear Ozil has worked to add more grit and strength to his game to adapt to the English physicality.

While Ozil’s goals and assists may not at the same level they were last year, Arsenal has much more balance this year and on top of that have gained an inspirational leader and talisman in Alexis Sanchez, with Ozil now acting as Arsenal’s main conductor and main complementary player, a role he fits so perfectly, instead of being expected to be the team leader/best player. It is evident from Ozil’s form that he has used all the unjust criticism as fuel to drive him forward, and as Bale’s shadow over the league continues to fade as Alexis increasingly is becoming a highlight machine, there is no reason Ozil’s play shouldn’t continue to get better.

Conversely, Gareth Bale arrived in Madrid on deadline day 2013 to endless optimism, coming off his best professional season, not even in his prime yet and now a corner stone in a top 3 striking force in the world, (Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo) the whole world wanted Gareth Bale to succeed. After an open 6 games in which Bale missed due to injury, the welsh wizard hit the ground running, scoring in his debut and going on to score 21 goals and 16 assists on the course of his first term in Madrid. Bale had found a nice place for himself in the Madrid side, acting as a secondary creative force along side Angel Di Maria. Although Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s main goal supplier was gone, Di Maria and Bale helped to step up, with Karim Benzema vastly improving his link up and passing play as well. Bale’s duty during his first season was to get acclimated the new league and style of play, continue to develop as a player while scoring and help Ronaldo be the best player he can be.  Real Madrid fan’s not only saw Bale as a brilliant player in the side today, but as the successor to the mercurial Ronaldo, splitting the net with a vicious volley or speeding by 3 players.

“I thought Gareth Bale had an incredible season, I really did… ‘I think moving to a new country, trying to learn a new language, and trying to adapt to a new lifestyle – for a relatively quiet, shy lad – I think he’s had an amazing, amazing season. And I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him, that’s the thing. I think we’ll see an even better Gareth Bale once he’s fit, he’s rested and he’s had a full pre-season.” ( former Liverpool and Real Madrid player Steve McManaman)

As a result of this, after Real Madrid won the champions league with Bale scoring in the final and Bale putting in the necessary work to get bigger and stronger in the off-season, there was much more expectation put on Bale for this season. Not only was he expected to score 25 plus goals this year and be a great individual player, he was expected to develop an even better relationship with Ronaldo. Sadly, this year has not gone as Bale would have hoped. His stats are down, Barcelona is top of the table, and his relationship with Ronaldo has gotten anything but better. While Madrid started the season in superb form, winning X games in a row, they’re form has dipped drastically since then. The Madrid side looks short of team chemistry as the players look disengaged and disjointed after multiple bad results. There seems to be a creativity lacking in the area connecting the midfield and forwards, Mesut Ozil is missing and it is becoming clearer by the match as not only Bale but Ronaldo as well are struggling for form for the first time in a while. It seems as though Bale’s poor form as snowballed as each poor display is continued by a performance by a seemingly less confident Bale.

Even though it is obvious that Bale has been struggling this year, his dip in form is not nearly as serious as the press and Madrid fans have been making it seem. This is seen throughout the press as well. The Spanish press wants bale to be more like Ozil, fit in well with the whole team and combine well with and assist Ronaldo. Moreover, La Liga looses a technical mastermind in Ozil who’s brilliance was appreciated more so in Spain by crowds who have gotten used to seeing the more technical players in the world, as La Liga is more of a finesse league than the Prem. Ozil was not only a great player who made Ronaldo even better, but he was someone that Spanish fans could relate too, as his play is reminiscent of Spain’s world cup winning side. On the other hand, Bale’s style of play is not as appreciated in La Liga, while he is still a very gifted technical player, he lacks the overall calmness that Mesut Ozil has to his play, he lacks the elegance and grace. All of this is evident in the criticism that Bale has constantly been receiving, after loosing El clasico 2-1 in the beginning in March, the two most reputable newspapers in Spain ripped him to shreds, giving him the lowest rating out of any players, and then not giving him a rating. Continuing this further, supporters waited for the team to return to Madrid following the defeat to attack and punch Bale’s car, which is shocking.

Gareth Bale is electric to say the least, full of rapid pace and a thunderous shot, not to mention quite astonishing dribbling ability. Lucky for Madrid fans there is another player on Madrid who has all those attributes and much more, CR7. In order for Bale to be firing on all cylinders he must be at full confidence as most of his strengths on the pitch are individualistic and he is constantly in scoring positions. Bale is meant to be the star of a team, the focal point which everything runs through, however, with Ballon D’or winner Ronaldo still clearly in his prime, Bale won’t get to be the focal point of Los Blanco’s for at least another two seasons. In order for Bale to be firing on all cylinders he must be at full confidence as most of his strengths on the pitch are individualistic skills. After such a stellar first season, Bale expected more responsibility from the start of the term, but after Ronaldo started the year in such rampant form, Bale had to fall into an even more complimentary role than last year with Benzema improving and James Rodriguez signing as well. However this is not the role for Bale, this is a role fit for Mesut Ozil, not someone of Bale’s style and demeanor.

This is a player with all the physical attributes and almost all of the technical ones as well, Bale is used to receiving the ball consistently throughout games and being at worst a second option, on top of that, Bale without a doubt feels pressure to not only play well every game, but get on the stat sheet, something Mesut Ozil felt during his first year at Arsenal, and Bale didn’t feel as much last year. While Ozil was showered with praise for his nonchalant demeanor by Madrid fans and the Spanish press, while Bale often gets bashed for doing too much and has been getting deemed a “ball hog.”  Madrid fans loved Ozil so much because while he was a great player in his own right but he also made Ronaldo amazing assisting him 27 assists in 3 years. Bale doesn’t make Ronaldo better yet, and for a 30 year old in his prime, he can’t wait; this is Ronaldo’s team and the supporters want to see him leading it, until he leaves the Bernabeu Bale will not be able to be fully unleashed.

“He was the player who best knew my moves in front of goal…I’m angry about Özil leaving.” (CR7)

Ozil didn’t let the criticism get to him and stayed confident throughout, I hope that Bale will do the same. Two year ago at this time, Bale was single handedly keeping shit spurs in the top 4 race, and Ozil was feeding Ronaldo goal after goal. At this time a year ago Ozil was public enemy number one for the English press and many Arsenal fans and Bale was developing a formidable combination with Ronaldo on their way to a champions league title. Present day, Ozil is the main source of creativity in a very balance Arsenal midfield hoping to win back-to-back F.A cups, and Bale is public enemy number one for the Spanish press and many Madrid fans.

People may say Bale is a better player than Ozil (which is wrong), but no one can dispute that Ozil fits in with the Arsenal side as a whole better than Bale does with his side.