A lot of revelations were made by Mesut Ozil when he was interview by Kicker. The Germany international made bare his mind and put to rest the decision over his future.
Mr Özil, for the kicker journalists you embodied world class over the last half year. Over the last few months, what was different to previous years?
Firstly I’m very happy because this ranking shows my aim to constantly improve myself further has also been recognised in public. Many have expected me to finish more often and score more goals. That’s going much better this season than in previous years.
Arsenal coach Arsène Wenger also asked for more goal threat from you before the season. Have you become more selfish on the pitch?
I would never say selfish but my movements are a bit different. I don’t look for the ball as deep, instead I wait further upfield. Then sometimes I have five minutes without a touch but find more chances in front of the opposition goal. The most important thing for me is: I must be free on the pitch. That’s what I need. The coach gives me this freedom and hence it’s going so well.
Was 2016 the best year of your career?
When you look back over all the years, I’ve always performed, also at Werder Bremen and Real Madrid. The statistics prove that, they were always very positive. Other than the fact I score more goals, the only thing that has changed is the expectations for me are raised each year. People always expect good games from me. If I have one bad game after 10 good ones, there’s immediate criticism.
Like after the recent defeats against Everton and Manchester City – for the English media you were the scapegoat.
We didn’t have much more than 20% of the ball and as a team couldn’t perform, so I also couldn’t play my game. I have been in the business for many years. If I believed and accepted everything written about me I would be crazy. But through my experience and self-confidence I can handle my critics. They just make me stronger.
Did you feel your cross for the winning goal against West Brom on Boxing Day was an answer to your critics?
Not just the cross. Over the whole game I performed, had a lot of the ball and helped create a lot of chances. The beautiful thing in our job is you can always prove yourself again.
At the end of the year you aren’t as fit as in the autumn and had to miss games due to infection. Does the season take more of a toll than usual?
Probably no player in the Premier League would claim he has the same liveliness as the beginning of the season. Plus, I played through the Euros, had a short holiday and could hardly prepare for the season. As a player you need a break, not just for your body but also for your mind. In the Premier League you just don’t have that. Between Christmas and New Year it hurts a bit, as colleagues from the Bundesliga and other leagues post photos from their holidays. Julian Draxler sent me a video from some other place every day to annoy me.
Is the title out of sight after those two defeats?
Definitely not, the past has shown that too. A year ago we were top of the league and quite a few people thought we’d be champions. Now Chelsea are in that situation but the season is long. We need (to go on) a run, then quickly you’re at the top again. I am convinced that we can still reach our target. With the new players, for example Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, we have more potential. And we have better team spirit.
How is that shown?
In previous years there were always players who were upset because they sat on the bench. Now they come on hungrier. Everyone feels this year we can really achieve something.
Is securing fourth for a Champions League place the minimum target?
When you look down, that’s where you’ll land! If you’re worried you play worriedly, not with freedom. Then you fall, maybe not just out of the Champions League places, but completely out of Europe. When you really want to reach your target, you must look ahead.
In the Champions League last 16, Arsenal have been drawn against Bayern Munich for the third time. Is elimination inevitable?
In football you never know. To win the trophy, you have to face the biggest clubs in the world and prove yourself. It is great that we have that chance again. Bayern are one of the favourites, in recent years they have played outstanding football. This season, they have become more vulnerable. They are not unbeatable – especially this year.
Your contract at Arsenal ends in 2018, for over a year there has been a “tug of war” over an extension. Why haven’t you and the club found an agreement?
This is the first time that I am concretely talking about it. I am very, very happy that I play for Arsenal and I feel very, very well. I have shown the club my willingness to extend (my contract). The fans want me to stay. Now it is all up to the club.
Is it about money?
Many have said that’s the reason. To be completely honest: in my career, it’s never been about money. It is about fun, about trust. The club knows that I am here because of Arsène Wenger above all else, he brought me here and I relish his faith. The club also knows, that I want to know what the manager is going to do…
His contract expires in the summer?
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was recently upset as he accused you and Alexis Sánchez of scolding the club in contract talks with your wage demands.
Everyone has a right to express their opinion but this statement doesn’t interest me, it also doesn’t affect me. Ex-players or other people that give their view don’t know what is actually said between me and the club. For me it is about trust and being valued, not about money.
In the national team you inherited the number 10 shirt after Lukas Podolski’s retirement. Why do you still wear 11 at Arsenal?
I would like to wear the 10, I’ve always wanted that, the club knew that from the beginning. Jack Wilshere already had the 10 when I arrived at Arsenal in 2013. The club said I will get the 10 when it is free. Since Wilshere left in the summer it’s free but I still haven’t got it.
At the beginning of December, Der Spiegel devoted their cover page to you – with gold Euro signs in your eyes. In Spain, you were supposedly asked to make a tax payment of over two million Euros and on account of a ‘serious penalty’ have been fined 800,000 Euros. What is the current status?
On that article, all I want to say at the moment is I immediately sought proceedings with my lawyers. The cover page as well as the essential points of the story about me have been forbidden with a provisional injunction.
Back to football: after defeat at the Euros in France you were beaten down like hardly anyone else in the German team. How difficult was it to accept this semi-final defeat?
Very difficult, because it was a bitter Déjà-vu experience. Clearly we were world champions in 2014, in Brazil we had a great experience. But in previous years we were already knocked out of the tournaments in the semi-finals. 2010 against Spain, 2012 against Italy, now against France. That was particularly painful – the disappointment is still there.
We wanted to show the world that, like Spain before, we could establish an era. I absolutely wanted to be European Champion, because I knew how wonderful that felt from the U21 triumph. In the first half we took the French apart, the final was right there. Then in Marseille, as everything ended up, emotions ran high and there were tears. I simply wanted it to be untrue that we had lost the game despite clearly being the better team…
The feeling of giving up a huge shot at the trophy is the predominant one?
Definitely. I am really good friends with Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese can be proud of what they achieved. But when I see how the final was and how it was won, it hurts all the more. I am sure we would have done it. But that’s football. The winner isn’t the better team, rather the one that also has some luck.
Maybe also more determination?
Yeah, that too. In a tournament it’s important that everything goes right and every player is fit. In the semi-final Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez were missed. We had no real striker to really push into the box.
Which lessons can you take from France into the World Cup in Russia?
That you don’t do unnecessary things, for example handballs in the box and waste so many chances. We have to be ice cold and hungry for goals. When that’s the case, we will achieve our targets.
Joachim Löw has recently strengthened with some younger players. Does that change the face of the team a bit?
I can’t follow the Bundesliga so intensely, because I usually have my own games. But I see that the young players coming in have the quality to play at a big tournament like the World Cup.
Who do you mean?
Julian Brandt is an example, he is so good on the ball. Also Max Meyer. Leroy Sané and Julian Draxler were already there at the Euros but still belong to that group of players. We already have a lot of potential, not just for Russia but the years to follow.
In the last two and a half years, long-time leading players Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Miroslav Klose, Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger have retired. Has that altered your role with the national team?
I believe, behind Mario Gomez, I am the longest serving player in the national team but my role is always the same. I just like to play! When something is going wrong on the pitch I open my mouth and that has weight. But usually I am rather quiet and leave the talking to the players from the “team council”.
Was it an important signal to the team that Löw has extended his contract from 2018 to 2020?
Yes. We are glad to have such a great coach on our side. He has earned it after developing German football over the years. For many years he’s had a consistent vision for beautiful, offensive football.
Löw has already confirmed that he wants to leave a lot of players out this summer during the Confederations Cup, instead naming a squad of young talent. Are you glad or would you like to play in Russia this summer?
Of course we want to play, that’s why we became footballers. However, I know a break in the summer would do me good. Eventually the body doesn’t do what you want and you drop a couple of percent. That’s why I’m thankful that Joachim Löw, as well as Arsène Wenger, can let me occasionally miss a game.
Klose ended his career at 37. Have you already got an idea how long you can go on?
Above all else, how long my body allows me to. In any case I already have an idea what I want to do first after my career.
And that would be?
I tell my friends and family: I will take a whole year off, go on holiday with my family and I would like to see the world, and play football with my brother and friends.
Over Christmas you had a dozen relatives and loved ones at your home in London. Do you always need someone around you?
Sure! I often have visitors, my cousin Serdar and my dog Balboa are basically always with me. I am lucky that the friends I was raised with work for me today and are there. And that the right people, who I trust completely, have joined us. The two years in Bremen I lived alone, watched TV shows alone, ate alone. That wasn’t for me. Over Christmas everyone was there, everyone slept wherever there was space. It was fun.