Strange scenarios

Mesut Ozil had an impressive Arsenal debut.-AP

Mesut Ozil may well be happy (at Arsenal), but his departure has left a bitter taste in the mouths of his former colleagues at Real. Foremost among them Ronaldo, arguably still one of the foremost players in the world, who relied on the excellent, shrewd passing of Ozil. By Brian Glanville.

We hear now and then of something known as the phenomenon of unintended consequences. Meaning things which happen were not meant to happen. Such as the current cases in top European football involving such major clubs as Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, such star turns as manager Pep Guardiola and players Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Zlatan lbrahimovic. Ozil has just cost Arsenal the massive sum of GBP42 million, far and away the highest transfer fee that they have ever paid. It was as long ago as 1938 that they broke the British transfer record by shelling out GBP14,000 for the little Welsh international inside left Bryn Jones from Wolves. Translated into today’s money, that would amount to a tidy sum even by today’s exorbitant standards.

Ozil has said how delighted he is to be coming to London and to the Gunners, but in the wake of the transfer of Bale, for the upside of GBP90 million, it still looks almost unexceptional. After all, did not Liverpool, in a fit of folly, pay Newcastle United GBP30 million for the far less talented centre forward, Andy Carroll? Stranger still was the GBP50 million paid by Chelsea to Liverpool themselves for a fading Fernando Torres.

Ozil may well be happy, but his departure has left a bitter taste in the mouths of his former colleagues at Real. Foremost among them Ronaldo, arguably still one of the foremost players in the world, who relied on the excellent, shrewd passing of Ozil. “If it were up to me,” declared the Spanish international defender, Sergio Ramos, “Ozil would have been the last player to leave.” Sami Khedira, who till recently played beside Ozil in Madrid and is himself a German international, opined, “I regret Mesut’s step. Mesut is always a player who can make the difference and always did.” A leading German newspaper trumpeted, “Bullied to Arsenal.” The surprising thing being that the new manager; the Italian Carlo Ancelotti, had actually — rather than the club’s President and directors — preferred to lose Ozil rather than the Argentine Angel de Maria.

“I realise I did not have the faith from the coach,” said Ozil sadly. “I am a player who needs this faith and that is what I have from Arsenal.” His arrival at the Gunners met with a joyful response from their present salient playmaker, the young Jack Wilshere, best of all English ball passers, yet you wonder whether in buying Ozil, Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger isn’t overegging the pudding. Besides Wilshere he already has the gifted Spanish midfielder Michael Arteta and his still more talented compatriot, Santi Cazorla, plus Wales’ impressive Aaron Ramsey. So who drops out and who will do the hard work in central midfield of marking and interception? The last Gunner to perform such tasks so well was Alexandre Song but Arsenal let him go to Barcelona where he seems to have sunk without trace. Of Ozil’s supreme skills, his flair for the perfect pass, there is no doubt, but teams after all have to defend as well as attack.

In the meantime, how will all this impinge on Gareth Bale? He had the expected rapturous reception from a vast crowd at the Bernabeu Stadium, and expressed his joy at being at Real, a boyhood ambition. But how well will he be able to adjust and adapt to playing in a team where Ronaldo, above all, calls the shots, plays where he feels like it, and in this respect does just what Bale was able to do at Hotspur? Who, however many expensive new foreign stars they have signed, do as if they remotely have anyone who can do what Bale did at Hotspur. Not only on the position to which he was so triumphantly converted from left back, but the field. In the same manner as Ronaldo.

And despite the huge applause with which the Real fans greeted him, his was not wholly reassuring. It coincided almost exactly with the extradition of his young partner’s father, from Spain to the United States to face charges for allegedly running the notorious boiler room scam. A criminal activity that has fleeced unsuspecting investors of millions of pounds but calling them from variety of offices spread across Spain by miscreants who persuade them to buy shares which turned out to be quite worthless. Hardly Bale’s fault, nor that of his girlfriend, but surely a worrying development for both of them which has together with the disillusionment of his future team-mates, the Ozil admirers, removed the gloss off his much lauded arrival in Madrid.

Then there is the case of Bayern Munich and Guardiola. In this case the highly-talented but ever explosive centre forward Ibrahimovic has ferociously attacked Guardiola, for whom he once played at Barcelona. He went to Catalonia for a colossal fee from Inter, stayed there barely a year, scoring no fewer than 22 goals, but his relationship with Guardiola was abysmal and he ultimately found himself, despite his outstanding performance, left out of the team. “Guardiola in the dressing room,” he says, “glared at me as if I was a disturbance, an alien.”

Yet Guardiola, as we know, worked wonders at Barcelona, who under him were dominant in European football, playing with a style, flair and incision that seemed for a time to put them ahead of any possible European opposition. Ibrahimovic, however, was a major force, who had already excelled with a variety of team among them Ajax and Inter, though initially born and brought up and schooled in Sweden. By contrast, the stars of the Barca team such as Iniesta and Xavi had grown up virtually from boyhood, learning and practising the Barca style. Ever an explosive rebel, Ibrahimovic found their behaviour subservient. It was perhaps inevitable that he and Guardiola would clash. Like Paolo Di Canio, the combustible Italian player now managing Sunderland, Ibrahimovic had his violent episodes. Like when he was given only five minutes off the bench in a match against Villarreal, “I completely lost it,” he admitted. Guardiola endured his tirade in silence. He would, according to Ibrahimovic mention the episode again, but Ibrahimovic was soon on his way out to Milan.

At Bayern by contrast Guardiola finds himself in charge of a squad of largely experienced internationals who operate in a style of their own. Scraping through on penalties against a Chelsea team down to 10 men in Prague in the European summit game was hardly reassuring. There have already been rumours of dissension in the Bayern dressing room over Guardiola’s tactics. Nor do I think he would, for all his success at Barca, have made an ideal coach for England, a job which he apparently wanted. Horses for courses, as they say in racing.