17 March 2015


Footballers: you can't trust a bastard of 'em. Give them a ball and a yard of grass and they might well do something so extraordinary that you won't quite know what it is — but they probably won't. They'll probably fail to do even the ordinary. (Amongst other things, natch,) a game is a litany of failures: earnest attempts to perform those simple and difficult acts that everything complex and easy-looking depends on, not coming off. The spectator's hopes are repeatedly raised, giving rise to a basic constant apprehension. Even a really good player, someone who will be tremendously dear to you in a few minutes' time if he does something exceptional, as he may have been many times thitherto — even he's likely to screw this up and ruin it for you. If you know you might react to his endeavours with anything from a brush of regret to a sincere cursing of his bloody inept excuse for an immortal soul, it's hard to let him do his thing without at least a ventricle being in your mouth.

Sometimes, though, a player is far better than he actually needs to be, and your (your?) privileged position as the spectator who knows what should happen next; the idea that this is a hell-sent obstacle to your contentment rather than a craftsperson possessed of an expertise that really is beyond the last confused and embarrassed mutterings of your ken — that shite no longer applies. You're not going to succeed in second-guessing the really good stuff. There comes a stage when the only thing to do is to let a player be with no interfering from that poor forsaken heartlet of yours. When Sergio Agüero set off for the Bayern Munich goal, you had to trust him to take you wherever he was going. And if you didn't get it the first time, he repeated it for you a few minutes later. He's nice like that, so he is.

Watching Mesut Özil demands this trust. The typical Özil pass looks like it's been played too gently to reach its destination on time, but turns out to have the perfect weight; it makes every other player's passes look off, over-eager to be correct. He floats between positions no else can see. He creates passing angles that briefly seem like they can't be feasible, and yet.

Özil's game is full of personality, but has no charisma. It has no interest in selling itself — it just is. It says the most amazing things, but at such a low volume that you have to lean in to hear.

But a big fat transfer fee precedes him wherever he goes and barks a hype-crammed announcement of his greatness. It gives off notions. For that sort of outgoing, shouldn't he be more ... well, outgoing? Shouldn't he personally greet each supporter with a smile and a quip as they walk in? Why is he so reticent? Why is he playing that way? What's he hiding?

Alexis Sánchez can play badly (as he has done quite a bit lately) and still get a brilliant report from Generic Co-Commentator because of his workrate. Özil can play well and still get convicted on the evidence of his body language. Even television's Mr. Analysis, Gary Neville, can't help spiralling downward in his assessment of Özil before touching down on the feeling that he just doesn't look right.

Early on against West Ham at the weekend, Theo Walcott was put through on goal, and instead of shooting first time, he waited for something or other and was tackled. In the second half, Özil was put through on goal, inside the penalty area and outside the left-hand post. It looked like he was lining up to shoot, availing fully of the couple of minutes' worth of space he had. Instead, he played a high pass across the goal, and the chance was lost. It would have been the most Özil move ever had the pass been any good. After Walcott, I struck the furniture. After Özil, I laughed. That's our Meslington.


Image by MiikaS on Flickr (Creative Commons)


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