With the World Cup in Russia commencing, now seems like the ideal time to get a bit nostalgic about World Cups past.
In this new feature, I’ll be taking a look at the careers and highlights of the various Premier League players to have won the World Cup.
Previously, we’ve talked about Cesc Fabregas and the role he played in Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph, and how it led to his big move to Barcelona.
This time, we’ll be focusing on a player who also made the English/Spanish club switch, but in the other direction — Mesut Özil.
Germany’s 2014 World Cup win was very much a team effort, of course, but Özil can claim to have played a pivotal role.
Scoring the winning goal vs Algeria in the second round, leading the tournament in completed passes in the final third, and second behind only Messi for chances created throughout the tournament — Özil was at the peak of his powers in Brazil.
His consistently strong performances were made all the more impressive by the fact that he was playing in a reasonably unfamiliar position. An injury to Marco Reus before the tournament meant Özil had to cover the left flank.
It proved to be no issue for the Arsenal man and it’s no surprise he’s since appeared in a range of positions behind the main striker for both club and country.
Before the World Cup Win
Özil began his professional career at his home club Schalke in 2006 before moving to Werder Bremen in 2008.
There, he shone in a decidedly average side, managing a huge 32 assists in the two seasons he was there.
Understandably he began to catch the eye of the elite clubs, and a stellar performance in the 2010 World Cup only increased the interest in him.
He joined Real Madrid after that tournament, and would go on to forge a formidable creative partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo for Los Blancos. In his final season in Madrid, he managed the frankly absurd figure of 29 assists in all competitions.
Yet somehow, he was still not considered on the level of the “new galacticos” that the Madrid president Florentino Perez wanted to create, and so in the season prior to the 2014 World Cup, Özil joined Arsenal.
Having established himself as one of the world’s best playmakers while in the Spanish capital, his switch to the North Londoners was seen as a massive coup; even for a (at the time) club record transfer fee of £42million.
The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo publicly showed his disappointment with Real for letting Özil leave, is evidence in itself of how effective a creator he could be, with Ronaldo saying: “He was the player who best knew my moves in front of goal… I’m angry about Özil leaving”.
His first campaign in London appeared to cement that view, with Özil finishing the season with 13 assists and 7 goals in 40 games across all competitions. An average of 2.9 key passes per game was only bettered by David Silva that year too.
After the World Cup Win
The season that followed the World Cup win was a poor one by Özil’s own high standards.
With only 5 goals and 7 assists by the end of the campaign, criticism began to rumble from fans and media alike.
Suggestions that he didn’t work hard enough or was simply a “luxury” player seemed to be quashed with what was a far more successful season in 2015/16.
20 assists saw Özil equal Thierry Henry’s record, and be recognised as Arsenal’s player of the season.
Though another reasonably underwhelming season followed, this year Özil hit 50 Premier League assists faster than any other player, in just 141 games.
Now Arsenal’s highest paid player, there are still some that question his consistency and output.
Whether he will remain with Arsenal in the post-Wenger era remains to be seen. If his comments on leaving Madrid are anything to go by, he’ll need the full backing of the new manager — “I am a player who needs faith” he said when joining Arsenal.
One thing’s clear: you don’t win, and star at, World Cups without substantial talent. A few Arsenal fans and members of the media would do well to remember that fact.
Written by Jackson Rawlings.