Why Real Madrid had to sell Mesut Ozil

The German's €45m sale to Arsenal on deadline day proved unpopular with the fans and some of the players, but the Spanish side had their reasons for dispensing with the playmaker
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

"Don't sell Ozil," they screamed. The fans had come along to the Santiago Bernabeu to welcome new signing Gareth Bale on Monday, but they also had a message for Florentino Perez. The president put his finger to his lips, however, to silence the chants. And hours later, Mesut was gone.

Some of the players echoed the fans' frustrations. "If I were in charge at Madrid, Ozil would be one of the last to be leaving," Sergio Ramos said. And Alvaro Arbeloa added: "He said goodbye on Sunday, but I thought he was joking. Ozil is different; there is no-one else like him in the world - it's a shame and a big loss."

Former coach Jose Mourinho was also surprised Madrid allowed Ozil to leave. "He is unique," the Portuguese pondered. "The best number 10 in the world." Two years ago, Mourinho had spoken of building a "young team for the future" at the Santiago Bernabeu. And Ozil was supposed to be a big part of that.

Gareth Bale Tottenham €100m
Asier Illarramendi Real Sociedad
Isco Malaga  €30m
 Dani Carvajal Leverkusen €6.5m
Casemiro Sao Paulo
 Mesut Ozil  Arsenal  €45m
Gonzalo Higuain  Napoli €37m
Raul Albiol  Napoli €12m
Jose Callejon  Napoli €10m
Pedro Leon  Getafe €6m
Ricardo Carvalho  Monaco Free
Kaka  AC Milan
Antonio Adan  - Released
Now he will not be, but Madrid's move for Bale brought with it the need to recoup some funds and even though Real recovered almost €60 million through the sales of Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol and Jose Callejon to Napoli, all of that and more had been splashed on a summer spending spree which saw Perez purchase midfielder Asier Illarramendi for an estimated €38m, Isco for €30m, defender Dani Carvajal for €6.5m and pivot Casemiro for €6m. All of that before Bale's €100m move from Tottenham.

Madrid had been prepared to include Angel Di Maria in the deal to buy Bale from Spurs, but the Argentina attacker chose to stay and fight for his future at the Bernabeu and impressed coach Carlo Ancelotti in pre-season. When the Italian asked his forwards for extra intensity in training, Di Maria responded. Ozil did not.

The German was included in Madrid's first official game this term, a hard-fought 2-1 win over Betis at the Bernabeu in which summer signing Isco shone to save his side. He had been paired with Ozil in a four-man midfield also featuring Luka Modric and Sami Khedira, but overshadowed the German with an assist and the late goal which gave the team all three points.

But Betis had caused Madrid all sorts of problems and Ancelotti called for better defensive discipline from his midfielders. "Isco and Ozil have to learn how to defend," the Italian said. "We need quality players, but they must work defensively. That's the key to the season, finding the balance with quality players."

Ozil was restored to his usual role in the centre for the trip to Granada in the second round of La Liga, but again Isco impressed from a deeper spot, while Di Maria created the only goal of the game for Karim Benzema with a pass to Ronaldo. Substituted with an hour gone, the German trudged off indignantly, walked straight to the showers and boarded the coach as soon as the final whistle had been blown. It was the last time he was to be seen on the pitch for Madrid.

On Sunday, Isco starred once again as he hit two goals in the 3-1 win at home to Athletic Bilbao. The other, a Cristiano Ronaldo header, had come from a Di Maria free kick and, without Ozil, Madrid played their finest football of the season. 

The German had been on the bench and did not play a single minute. And by the end of the day, his move to Arsenal had been all agreed,

But the popular playmaker never looked likely to be first choice under Ancelotti. The Italian was unimpressed by Ozil's attitude in training and, although he wanted to keep the German at the club, he understood that a sale was necessary following the significant outlay on Bale and the funds needed to offer Ronaldo a new contract.

Madrid had long looked to remove Kaka from their wage bill and the Brazilian moved on for free to former team AC Milan on Monday. But still the club looked to recoup extra funds and with Di Maria having forced his way into Ancelotti's plans, Ozil ended up being the one to leave.

Real were also unhappy at the German's constant push (via his father) for an improved contract. Ozil had demanded parity with Ronaldo and, when that request was refused, asked for an additional €2m per year. He will now double his money at Arsenal.


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And the move made sense. At his brilliant best, Ozil may be - as Mourinho claims - the finest number 10 in world football. Yet too often at Madrid he would struggle with his fitness, running out of steam late in games. Never one of the side's strongest characters, there was also a tendency to go missing mentally in the very big matches. When he was at his prime both physically and mentally, he could be unplayable - but that was by no means all of the time.

With Isco and Bale on board, he was never likely to be first choice, either. Or rarely. Lacking the defensive discipline to play in central midfield (even compared to Modric, who won the ball back brilliantly against Athletic), the German struggles on the right because he is unable to go wide, lacks pace, cuts inside constantly and rarely tracks back. Both Bale and Di Maria are better options here, in any case.

That just leaves the playmaker position and that role is reserved for Isco. The former Malaga man is more of an all-round player than Ozil; more athletic, quicker, stronger and able to operate in a number of different positions, the Spain star also boasts brilliant vision and tremendous technique. Crucially, he will score goals as well. So far, he has hit three already in just three games and also set up one of Madrid's other three strikes in 2013-14. At 21, he is also nowhere near his peak. Whether he can go to form such a successful association with Ronaldo remains to be seen (Ozil set up 27 goals for Cristiano in three seasons), but all of the talent is there for him to become an ever better player than the German. Arguably, in fact, he is already there.

So instead of being left with an unhappy player struggling for consistency, Madrid have cashed in with the biggest sale in their history (€42m for Robinho in 2008 was the previous high). And although fans will remember how Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were forced to move on against their will to accommodate Kaka and Ronaldo in 2009, this transfer was as much about Ozil's attitude and unwillingness to stay and fight as it was about making money for Madrid. So despite his tremendous talent, it was probably the best solution in the end. The only solution.

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