The reaction to two players could hardly be starker. One evokes sympathy for his situation, along with admiration and acknowledgement of his skills. The other is less well-received, despite being no less gifted. The difference is their industry.
One, a scurrying interventionist, drove forward at every opportunity and chased back; always energetic, always involved. The other, languid and surly in equal measure, is equally effective going forward but in a different way. Picking the pass, threading the ball through the eye of a needle but all too often found on the periphery when the team needs driving forward.
Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil; two of the most gifted players in the club’s history but of the pair, the Spaniard is the one many would pick in their team first. Yet this morning’s press show’s the life of the footballer is not always cushioned by the wealth they attract.
Cazorla’s injury was horrendous, though not as bad as reading his physio is named “Juancar” [say as the Spanish would, not in Thames Estuary English…]. Reading the skimpy detail of his travails of his fight, you can’t help but admire his tenacity in returning as a player. To be away from his family and fighting back to fitness on his own underlines the strength of his character.
It’s easy to understand the brief glimpses of his anger and frustration at the surgeons in England who gave up on him. Equally, the Spanish consultant who refused to do the same and instead gave him back his career is someone Cazorla feels indebted to; a debt that is repaid little by little every time he treads the turf.
Could Arsenal do with him now? I’m not sure he would survive the rigours of the Premier League. It’s too physically demanding.
Which is a shame for Cazorla. He is desperate to bid fans farewell. Though if he gets involved in the Legends matches, it’s more hasta luego than adios.
“The people love me there and I’ll always have a connection with Arsenal, so much affection. Not being able to say goodbye playing at the Emirates is like a thorn in my side. If I had to leave, I wanted it to be in front of the fans.”
He doesn’t feature this afternoon against Real Madrid – “it’s for ex-players and I don’t think I’m there yet” – and it isn’t a route he is forced to follow for a few seasons yet. At 33, he surely has another two or three years in the tank?
Like Tomas Rosicky, there’s a feeling we were robbed by his injury. The chance to say farewell and thank you for the service.
I wonder how Mesut Özil’s departure will look? Had he been sold this summer, the reaction would certainly be mixed. Admiration of his technical gifts is always balanced – not equally all the time – by criticisms of his perceived lack of effort. Days when he is imperious – the FA Cup semi-final and final – are a stark contrast to those when he is ineffective, such as Stamford Bridge.
Cazorla could be the same, marginalised by stern treatment or close marking, but the reaction to the two players reflects the extremes of fandom.
Özil reminds me of Charlie Nicholas in the final years at the club. He didn’t fit in under George in the end, despite giving his compatriot his first silverware. The fan reaction to him at the time was similar to that the German receives. The extremes of adulation or those who couldn’t wait to get shot of the player.
There is an interesting piece in the Heil on Özil’s treatment by Germany, in both football and nationhood terms. The piece, oblivious to the irony of the situation, lays bare the outright racism he and Ilkay Gundogan face. As Özil says,
“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose. Is it because of Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?”
Whatever the reason, the vicious racism facing the two shames a nation. Had an English chairman acted in the same manner as convicted tax fraudster Uli Hoeness, the pitchforks and torches of the media and fans would see him hounded out of the game. That he isn’t, speaks volumes about Bayern Munich as a club and the apathy of their supporters. Let’s not forget, he doesn’t own the club; he’s just an employee.
And we’ve seen administrators lose their jobs over Ugandan relations with secretaries so quite how heads haven’t rolled at the DFB for their handling of the affair is beyond me. None of those involved come out of this in a good light. Joachim Löw, quick to criticise Özil over his retirement, didn’t launch any kind of defence of the player over the criticism he received. Oliver Bierhoff fares little better, with a spinelessness which would send a shiver down his if he possessed one.
It’s a signal that football the world over is besieged by the ills of society rather than being a cause of them. The problem the game has is that the light shines too often on these issues and they remain in the spotlight for too long. While I have qualms about referring to his salary in relation to his performances on the pitch, wealth has nothing to do with the racism he faces.
His former teacher summed it up best:
“People look at him and think ‘He has money, he is privileged, why does he complain?’
“This is wrong. People are envious. They see someone having success from a lower level, rags to riches, and dislike it.
“He is a good man. If he is right or wrong with the allegations, I don’t care. This is how he feels. He uses his platform to say ‘Not everything is fine. There is a problem’. We should listen.”
And nothing will change until we all do.