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Ozil: Odd one out?

Is Ozil the odd one out that should be left in the cold or misunderstood by those that look to crucify him for not following suit like 25 others?

By now, you have likely heard the news that Arsenal have reached an agreement with a vast majority of their players over a 12.5% wage cut. I spoke about it yesterday in a blog that outlined the success of the club and players that was announced in an official club statement. Along with the breaking of this news came the message that there were a few players that did not agree to the terms and the club would be continuing their conversations with those individuals, so they were more comfortable with the terms and intentions of the deal. As you may have guessed, it took a large amount of readers less than a minute to redirect the narrative and point of this announcement to “name and shame” the odd ones out.  

As the day wore on, into today, suggestions from multiple outlets and sources are in agreement that one of these players is Mesut Ozil. Ozil is the clubs highest paid player on £350K a week, he is approaching the final year of his contract, and he is without a doubt the most divisive player at the club – possibly world. The only argument more divisive in football is possibly the “greatest of all time – Ronaldo or Messi” fight. Views on Ozil split between coaches, analysts, pundits, supporters of Arsenal, and general supporters of game. I wrote about the fact that even during the start of this pandemic, when there were no games, it wasn’t enough to stop the arguments over Ozil resulting in the world trying to decide if he was better than Toni Kroos.

However, this time is different. Ozil isn’t being berated by the public for a lack of effort, for disappearing during a game, or not tacking back to play defense. People aren’t arguing whether his performance was good or bad, whether leading the team with an average of 4.5 created chances a game under Arteta is enough when he isn’t producing assists, or whether he should be on the bench for Willock game in and game out (he shouldn’t). No, today the world drew lines in the sand and picked up their pitchforks to argue whether his decision to go against the majority is warranted or selfish. To decide if Ozil a diva or smart. Essentially, is he a good person or, for lack of a better word, scum.

There are reasons to feel that Ozil must simply “believe he is better than the rest”. After all, 25 other players seemed to have reached an agreement with the club and found the numbers to be fair. Ozil’s situation is hardly in a volatile place where he is young and in a contract negotiation like Bakayo Saka nor is he even in a contract year. In fact, Ozil is at a pretty relaxed point in his contract unless Arsenal find a suitable buyer for him during the transfer window, but that would see his cut returned in full.

For Ozil, the situation is pretty straight forward as far as what 12.5% for a year would mean to him. At 350k a week for 12 months it maths out to £43,000 a week and £2.2M over the course of the year – assuming the full amount is cut. According to Forbes, Ozil’s net worth is somewhere around 100M and given that amount, £2.2M is hardly an amount that would bankrupt the German midfielder. At least, not on the surface without understanding the ins and outs of his personal finances. If this were the whole story, it would certainly leave a bitter taste in my mouth as I compare his situation to those around the world taking pay cuts without the ability to negotiate with their employers.

However, the reality is that players do have that right, and when it comes to Ozil’s story these are not 100% of the facts that should be taken into consideration. The other half is a combination of what we can learn from Ozil’s past, what his agent has said recently, and what is believed to be Ozil’s current view of the proposed cut.

This week, Ozil rejected the cut and it is believed to have been because of the rushed timeline and lack of communication from the club on how the money would be used. These combined issues have caused him to withhold his acceptance, but likely only for the time being. Reportedly, Ozil is willing to take a 12.5% wage cut, or larger, if the club can offer more assurances of their intent and future financial plans.

Naturally, this sentiment was not received well by everyone in the general public. Many people felt this was simply an attempt to whittle down the amount he has to give up. Surely though, if the club was honest in their overall assessment of the their needs from the players and wholesome with their intents – this shouldn’t be an issue, right?

What about this being an attempt to hoard his wages? It’s is easy to see a player wanting to do this. They signed a contract, the club agreed to it too, and given these players have a small window of years to earn player wages – they may be inclined to hold onto what they are owed. Except, Ozil’s history does not suggest he is uncharitable with his wealth.

Ozil has been sited:

  • paying for 1,000 vital operations for children across the world
  • feeding 100,000 homeless people at 16 refugee camps in Turkey and Syria
  • paying £240,000 to fund operations for sick kids in Brazil
  • working for children’s charity Rays of Sunshine

To add to this, he was an early whistleblower on what was happening in China as he condemned China’s persecution of Uighers, allegedly forcing them into prison camps. A statement that challenged him to stand his ground as Arsenal distanced themselves from their player’s political views. And yet, Ozil remained steadfast in his condemnation and refused to apologize for it. All of this to say that Ozil has not shown himself to be a footballer unaware of the world around him and the plights of the common man.

Recently on Steilcast, Ozil’s agent Raphael Honigstein said:

“It is not enough for a club to present a proposal to one member of the first team squad and then asked them to go to the rest of the squad an get their consent to do it. That is not how individual contract negotiations should take place.

A club may even ask a first team manager to negotiate with players and this may influence some, particularly younger players or those on the fringe who fear there might be personal repercussions for him if he does not agree.

In those circumstances it could be questionable that any consent from the players would be legally binding anyway as some players are not in a position to give true consent if they are under pressure to do so.”

Given, Raphael is an agent that represents two players on Arsenal – Ozil and Mustafi – it is fair to assume he is speaking about Arsenal’s methods of handling this situation and does not believe his clients should have accepted the proposal. It should be noted, that no reports of Mustafi’s acceptance or rejection have been reported.

Between these three things – his response, his agent’s response, and his charitable history – we can form a better picture of Ozil’s potential intents. They are ones that could lead me to believe his sincerity in wanting to work with Arsenal to reach terms both agree upon, as long as, it is built upon factual plans and definitive losses. Currently, those boxes have not been checked by the club in this rushed timeline.

I won’t tell you how to feel – and I hope I have made it clear that both sides have some points of validity. What I will say is, if his stance truly is, “as this club’s largest earner, I am willing to supply the 12.5% and then some if you work with me” then good on him and everyone that paused before tearing into him, but the sincerity of his motives won’t be known for a while as details get fleshed out more definitively.

What this tells us, to some degree of certainty, is that the distrust toward KSE and the way they are running the club likely exists beyond the skeptical supporters and lives within the team themselves. An intriguing, if not saddening, light on the current state of the club. It also is additional proof as to why these matters are often carried out behind closed doors, out of the view of public, and without leaked documents or back channeling. The public is often fickle in their views, relentless in their opinions, and quick to take a stance on matters that are extremely complex in their development resulting in external pressure.

There is more to come in this saga and likely more details the public will be privy to, so stay tuned as the story develops. Stay safe, stay well, stay home.

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