Sunday 23 July 2017

Clock continues to tick on Mesut Özil's double-or-quit gamble

'But what of Özil? Which of the rival European clubs that could meet his salary demands actually want him?' Photo: Getty Images
'But what of Özil? Which of the rival European clubs that could meet his salary demands actually want him?' Photo: Getty Images

David Hytner

Arsène Wenger was asked about the Mesut Özil contract issue after Arsenal's 3-2 home win over Swansea City last October. It was not the first time that the manager had been pressed on it and, goodness knows, it would not be the last. Type "Özil" and "contract" into an online newspaper archive and, at the time of writing, it brings up 4,117 hits from the British national press over the past year. "I don't think Mesut needs convincing to stay," Wenger said, back then. "He wants to stay here. If you have a good bank, call me."

Wenger's quip gave the story one of its principal drivers, even if high finance tends to go hand-in-hand with the career direction of the modern Premier League footballer. As has been endlessly reported, Özil now has one year to run on his £140,000-a-week contract and he wants a massive pay rise before he commits to another one at the club.

Yet this is a situation that stands apart from so many of its ilk, including those of the former Arsenal players Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie and Özil's current team-mate Alexis Sánchez. Nasri and Van Persie left the club in 2011 and 2012 for Manchester City and Manchester United respectively, when they each had one year to run on their deals, while Sánchez is expected to leave this summer, with City increasingly confident that they will get him. Sánchez has one year to go on his contract.

The market was hot for Nasri and Van Persie and it is red hot for Sánchez, with Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain having also shown an interest in him. Arsenal's dilemma with Nasri and Van Persie was that both players had refused to sign new contracts and so they had to cash in or risk losing them on free transfers the following year. The situation is the same with Sánchez.

But what of Özil? Which of the rival European clubs that could meet his salary demands actually want him? There are only seven that can offer weekly wage packets of more than £200,000 a week - the ­Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and PSG. And, at present, Arsenal have fielded no concrete inquiries from any of them. It has served to leave Özil in a curious position. This is a superstar player who, depending on your viewpoint, may or may not have justified his billing, who wants superstar wages but is currently unwanted by the superstar clubs.

The starting point for any analysis of Özil's strategy must be what Arsenal are prepared to offer him, and, happily for all parties, it appears that they do know a good bank. Their proposal is, reportedly, in the region of £280,000 a week - in other words, a 100pc rise, which would add up to an extra £7.3m per year, before tax.

But Özil and his people are stalling. In January, Özil suggested that he wanted to know whether Wenger would stay on for another cycle before he extended his own contract. The manager committed to another two years on May 31 yet that seems to have done little to accelerate the negotiations with Özil.

One of the big questions for the Germany midfielder concerns why he should sign a new deal during this window - in the absence of a viable offer from elsewhere. It is the question that his representatives are asking and it is understood that they have resolved to sit tight until January 2018.

At that point, Özil would have six months to run and he would be able to discuss a free transfer for the summer with interested overseas clubs. He could even agree a pre-contract and, in those circumstances, would expect to receive a huge signing-on bonus, similar to what the buying club would save in transfer fees.

Would this bonus be more than £7.3m or the sum that Özil would forfeit by remaining on his current salary for another year? Surely yes, even if it is unclear how much a club would pay for Özil in terms of the transfer fee. In cases that involve colossal wages, the fee can be squeezed.

Were Özil, as is expected, to wait it out, he would hope not so much to keep his options open - with re-signing at Arsenal in the end still among them - but to broaden them. He would back himself to excel in a World Cup year and tempt some of the elite clubs out of the woodwork.

On the other hand, anything can happen in the coming months and that includes things going wrong. Özil could get injured or he might play badly and see his value drop. He could worry about injury and play within himself. If the grass does not prove greener on the other side of the conundrum, he would have lost money and put needless pressure on the relationship with Wenger, his team-mates and the Arsenal support.

For Özil, the clock is ticking. Loudly.

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