Mesut Oezil is officially a Real Madrid player after a summer of speculation. But with a host of stars fighting to play in the position Oezil favors, and a coach known for blunting creativity, is it a good move for him?
Oezil's fight to win a place in the Real team starts here
Oezil, one of the stars of the young Germany team which lit up the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, signed a six-year deal with Spanish giants Real Madrid on Wednesday after coach Jose Mourinho used all his charm and powers of persuasion to lure him away from Werder Bremen.
"I spoke to my advisers and looked at the options but I always wanted to join the best team in the world, and to play under the best coach in the world, Jose Mourinho," the 21-year-old German playmaker told reporters at his unveiling at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. "I chatted to him and he convinced me. What we spoke about will remain between him and me but that's why I am here."
Mourinho certainly has charisma in spades and a cabinet full of trophies to back up his own claim that he is the 'special one.' With the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United all chasing Oezil, the Portuguese charmer had to dig out his most persuasive sales pitch to convince Oezil that his future lay with Real Madrid.
Jose the Charmer used his persuasive power on Oezil
One has to wonder what promises were made to seal the deal. Perhaps few were actually needed. Any young man's head would be turned if courted by a club which has won a record number of Champions League titles, an unsurpassed 31 La Liga titles and was named "Team of the Century" by FIFA in 2000. In terms of history and prestige, few clubs come close to Real Madrid.
And trophies aside, no-one could blame a youngster from modest Gelsenkirchen for being seduced by the bright lights glinting off pristine white shirts and the Armani-clad, smooth-talking coach. But one hopes that beyond the glitz and glamour, Oezil looked for a little more substance before putting pen to paper. For the youngster's sake, one hopes a few promises based on his prospects on the pitch were made among all the flirtatious whispers.
Real are hardly a club living off past achievements, but it is now two years since they were last Spanish champions and eight years since they last won the Champions League. Mourinho is the tenth coach to come through the rotating doors of the Bernabeu since then, and while each of his predecessors have attempted to return Real to dominance by filling the squad with the best players in the world, none have hit upon the right formula.
An embarassment of riches
Madrid's midfield boasts stars like Ronaldo and Kaka
The consequence of this is that Real Madrid is a club overflowing with superstars in every position. Despite Mourinho sweeping his own broom through the changing room, Oezil joins a team which still has more than its fair share of midfield maestros. He will find himself competing for a place in the team with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Rafael van der Vaart. Factor in Mourniho's other new signings, Oezil's international team mate Sami Khedira and Argentina’s Angel di Maria, and Oezil faces a daunting task to make the starting line-up.
While it is contentious to say that Mourinho is the world's best coach, he is certainly one of the most successful. League titles won in Portugal, England and Italy speak for themselves while winning two Champions League titles with two different clubs just proves the first was no fluke. Joining a Mourinho team comes with the closest you can get to a guarantee that medals will follow. But while the Portuguese is an undoubted winner, his success has come at a price for some players - usually those similar in style and approach to Oezil.
Mourinho has a reputation for blunting the creative urges of his free spirits, as seen in the hobbling of stars such as Arjen Robben and Joe Cole while at Chelsea - players who have looked born again once removed from his influence.
A man who believes in systems, Mourinho takes flamboyant players as a personal insult, reading flair as a lack of discipline. There have been many players in the Oezil mold who have been shackled by Mourinho's demands and even though this approach brings great success and glory, the players themselves have often lamented the suppression of their expression once they have left his charge. Could Oezil be risking the dampening of the fire within in exchange for a bit-part role in a potentially title-winning team?
One wonders whether Oezil would have been better off in football terms joining one of the other teams vying for his signature.
Swashbuckling Barca top heavy with talent
Playing with Messi would be a dream for most players
Barcelona, undoubtedly the most attractive team in the world to watch, play a swashbuckling style of soccer that any creative player would love to indulge in. Oezil's trickery, speed and vision would have fitted well with the system coach Pep Guardiola has his La Liga title holders playing. Plus there was the chance to play with a host of World Cup winners and, of course, lining up beside Leo Messi in a team which consistently challenges - and often wins - the biggest prizes in the game.
However, as is the case with Real Madrid, Barcelona already have Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta playing in Oezil's position - and while he could have played in a more forward position, would Guardiola have made room for Mesut in an attacking line boasting Messi, David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pedro? While Barca's style would have suited him better than Real's, he would have still faced the tough prospect of battling with the world's best for time on the pitch.
Man United left with Oezil-shaped hole
Perhaps the best option for the German youngster would have been Manchester United.
Ferguson has built and rebuilt teams around young talent
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has an unquestioned reputation for nurturing young stars and building new teams around precocious talents. United appear to be approaching one of their periodical regenerations with a host of aging stars preparing to make way for a new breed. Ferguson is watching players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs come to the end of the playing days and is looking for a player of Oezil's qualities and age to conduct the Old Trafford orchestra for years to come.
At United, Oezil would have be the main man, charged with building play and dictating attacks. With new Mexican signing Javier Hernandez looking lively and Wayne Rooney edging back to form and fitness, Oezil could have been the player to pull the strings behind them. It is also known that if Ferguson signs a player, he already has plans for them to be deployed in the team in a certain role - not keep them hanging around as a pretty accessory among the abundant riches on the sidelines. Oezil would have got playing time in Manchester and could have been instrumental in creating the next era at the club.
Time will tell whether or not it is only Sir Alex Ferguson regretting Oezil's decision to choose Madrid over Manchester.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Matt Hermann