Friday 22 September 2017

James Lawton: Moyes' failure to sign perfect fit Ozil may return to haunt United

Manchester United manager David Moyes
Manchester United manager David Moyes
Mesut Ozil
James Lawton

James Lawton

One great football man's unlikely triumph looked increasingly like another's rebuke when Arsene Wenger unveiled Mesut Ozil, the Premier League's marquee signing.

Once again the Arsenal manager was a master of all he surveyed. He was urbane once more, with the haunted expression he had worn for so long supplanted by a smile which seemed to speak of unshakeable optimism.

The face of his Manchester United rival, David Moyes, was not on view but had it been you had to guess that he would have been hard pushed to disguise some etching of regret.

Ozil, of course, could have been United's. He could have been the instant solution to a chronic failure of creativity which was hardly camouflaged by last season's run to the title. Instead, Moyes finally broke United's transfer torpor in a perilously late scramble for his main man at Everton, Marouane Fellaini.

No doubt the tall Belgian is a formidable operator in his advanced midfield role but he is not Ozil, he is not a playmaker of the most superior kind.

The difference, you have to believe, would have been seized upon quite ferociously by Moyes' predecessor Alex Ferguson at the first whisper that Real's pursuit of Gareth Bale provided a chink of Ozil opportunity.

For years Ferguson agonised over the ebbing of Paul Scholes. He was thwarted in his desire for Champions League-winning Wesley Sneijder, a fine craftsman but again, no Ozil, in movement and wit, and five years his senior. Ferguson, in his desperation to augment the likes of Michael Carrick and the deeply disappointing Anderson, talked of the restless Wayne Rooney as a transplanted midfield master.

Now it is not the wildest speculation to wonder if the old warrior might have delayed his retirement one more year had he known that Ozil would become so available he virtually fell into Wenger's lap.

Certainly Moyes must have winced when Ozil (24) spoke of his belief in the Arsenal tradition of improving players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas and said that he believed he was joining a club equipped to compete at the highest level.

"It is an honour to play for a great manager," said Ozil, who merely shrugged at other people's shock at his departure from a Real, where he had been such an influential force. "I had a good time in Madrid," he said, "and a very good relationship with the players and the fans, but I'm delighted to join Arsenal, a club to which so many good players have come – and got better."

Smouldering

Madrid, it seemed, was near finished business beyond the smouldering anger, felt not least by Ozil's father, over Real president Florentino Perez's claims that the player had been seriously distracted by the charms of his former Venezuelan beauty queen girlfriend.

Yesterday Ozil looked impressively detached from such peripheral matters and Wenger's demeanour was of a man who had found not a wayward Lothario but a superb mainspring of a seriously re-activated team. "Ozil is a player of the highest quality and it is thrilling to have him," he said.

Tomorrow at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland will seek to limit the first impact of a player widely considered to reside comfortably among the world's top 10, but there was a swift consensus that Ozil will no more struggle on Wearside as it was once suggested Lionel Messi might on a cold December night in Stoke.

Both Fabregas and new team-mate Santi Cazorla believe that the new man will swiftly confirm the wisdom of the £42.5m investment.

Fabregas said: "He is going to enjoy the Premier League an awful lot. It is a league with much more space and Ozil is a player who given time and space will kill you. His final ball is brilliant."

Cazorla was euphoric when he considered the meaning of Ozil in an Arsenal shirt, saying: "He is a spectacular player and we are very lucky that we are going to learn alongside him. I just don't understand why Real sold him. He is a unique player."

If Arsenal need any further underpinning of the uplift created by Ozil's arrival, and the impressive defeat of Spurs, they need only re-run the video of their new man's supreme performance against English opposition.

It was in the second round World Cup game in Bloemfontein three years ago. England had a legitimate grievance when Frank Lampard's potentially equalising goal was disallowed outrageously, but in all the angst there was no question about Germany's inherent superiority.

Most memorable was the brilliance of Ozil. He displayed dazzling speed and superb judgment on the ball, and when it was over his adversary Gareth Barry looked like a man who had been taken to new and impossible terrain.

Sanguine

Nothing in the set of Ozil's expression yesterday, and the buoyancy of his manager, encouraged the players of Sunderland to be sanguine about their chances of avoiding such a fate.

For any matching apprehension you probably had to go to Old Trafford. If Sunderland, already under severe pressure, fear the possibility of an unequal battle, United must worry about the prospects of a slower burning ordeal.

It is of seeing Ozil prove all season long that he was the man they just had to have, one who was both affordable and custom-made.

Last year United gained Robin van Persie and another year at the top of English football. This time they have to pray that in overlooking Ozil they didn't also mislay their future.

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