Same old criticism of Mesut Özil is still wrong

Ozil Training Unai Emery

Mesut Özil – Germany’s, and the World Cup’s, biggest contributor of expected goals assisted per 90 minutes in Russia – has retired from international football.The retirement was nothing to do with football, coming after abuse and blame that the German player has received, but then nor was the criticism of Özil about football.The midfielder played just two matches, yet created the fifth-most expected goals assisted (total) out of any player at the World Cup. He may not have made a tackle, but it was he who was tracking back, noticing the run of Hirving Lozano, and tried his best to match the young Mexican’s speed.By all logic, there’s is no reason to fault Özil’s effort in Russia. The photo taken with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before the tournament “as stupid as it was, also gave his critics the perfect weapon to reinforce their denial of him,” wrote Zito Madu on the subject.

“It is with a heavy heart,” Özil’s statement read, “and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”On two levels, this kind of thing is nothing new. The most quoted passage of Romelu Lukaku’s essay on the Player’s Tribune might be this one:“When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker.“When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese descent.”The other thing that isn’t new is a misunderstanding of the hard work that Özil puts in. Sure, the German didn’t make a tackle in 180 minutes in Russia. But Andrés Iniesta made one in 284 minutes; Harry Kane also only mustered a single in 573 minutes of action. It’s almost as if measuring an attacking player’s work-rate by the number of defensive actions they do is nonsense.The ‘Özil doesn’t work hard’ claims carry over into the Premier League too. In 2017/18, only Eden Hazard made more open play key passes per 90 minutes than the German. The Belgian made just 0.22 tackles per 90 minutes; Özil made almost four times more, 0.83.

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