“As stupid and vicious as men are, this is a lovely day.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
Yesterday, it snowed for the first time this year. I cannot pretend it’s something I am overly excited about, even though I’m used to it by this point in my life. It’s early for weather like this, and snow means extra hassles getting places, cold and windy days, and plenty of months before consistent warmth from the sun beams down overhead. For a moment the idea of a few more months of lockdown within a warm home seems slightly less nightmarish.
Yet despite that dreary reality, I look at the train tracks just outside my window where I write and I can’t help but admire the way the snow lies atop them, clearly outlining the shape of each railroad tie. There’s no real sun overhead, but fresh snow still gives off a glimmer. A chilling beauty indeed.
The thought crosses my mind that that snow may very well still be on the ground when the Mesut Ozil conversation resurfaces – assuming it resurfaces one more time from his many adoring fans after the January window.
Yesterday, Arsenal were preparing for their opening Europa League fixture against Rapid Wien. The Europa League, an event Arsenal had to register their squad for a few weeks back, and whose registration did indeed foreshadow the omission of Arsenal’s global icon Mesut Ozil within the Premier League.
It wasn’t an axing a butcher would be proud of. It was messy, slow, and prolonged. Even these two weeks between registrations felt like an elongated, inevitable result, filled with people attempting to rationalize with themselves or daring to believe the Premier League registration would yield a different result.
To be honest, I’m not here to talk about rights and wrongs. The argument has been rehearsed, fine tuned, repeated, adjusted, added to, and disputed to the point where any average Arsenal fan could walk you through both sides effortlessly. Like teaching someone a simple song and dance.
Every Ozil argument at this point is a formal call and response, while participants go round and round. For every point a rebuttal. For each rebuttal, a counter point. For every fact, a gap. For every gap, a handful of ways fill it in to link it all together.
Is it footballing issues or off-field issues? Lackluster training or lackluster production? Spurning the club, or the club spurning him? In the end, the issue is likely revolving around all the above, but who are we to say? Certainly none of us are likely to ever know any time soon. And those privy to the knowledge, who remain unbiased and trustworthy, will not be in any hurry to spill the facts and throw themselves into the firing line.
I, personally, don’t find it hard to believe Mesut’s omission has long been in the works. Declining results, statements that upset the club, not conforming, a changing team mentality he may not innately fit in with, an aging athlete, volatile recent club history, capped off and pushed over the line by a club strapped for cash, looking to just maybe get their cake and eat it too by moving Ozil along. After all, isn’t money the root of most problems if you follow the rabbithole?
You might say, that it’s not possible this relationship has been tearing apart for years. The statements, undermining, leaks, and omissions just began. But isn’t it more likely that, like many failing relationships, there was just a tipping point? A point where the glimmering allure wore off and things that have happened all along the way suddenly irritated you more than anything. You reflect back and realize things have always been that way, but you had never known you despised it so much because there were other qualities shining brighter.
Who are you thinking of when you read the above paragraph — Ozil or Arsenal? The situation is a two way street and there are plenty who fell in love with the club, who now feel as though its actions of late, exemplified in Ozil’s treatment, has removed much of infatuation they once had. Others will point to the style of play and persona Ozil brought to the side as a luxury player who papered over his flaws with world class production. Now that the production has ceased, revealing the blemishes and his true-self, the relationship is cracked and crumbling. Both will point to seven years of quotes to defend their ground.
What’s interesting to me, is that occurrences like these are not foreign or unusual in the world of sport. In fact, some could argue they are on the rise in the sporting world. None quite the same, and maybe none with the global following like Arsenal and Ozil’s, but many similar points. In fact, at age 32 Ozil isn’t even the best athlete, at the time of the dispute, when compared to some of the others.
The NBA had quite the upheaval surrounding Anthony Davis, albeit slightly reversed. The Pelicans had him under contract but he wanted to go. The NFL is filled with contract disputes and players looking to get paid, but Le’Veon Bell’s dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers went as far as seeing him refuse to play for the team for a full year when they attempted to take advantage of something called a Franchise Tag that would see Bell paid significantly less than he considered his value. That got very ugly with people who were not even fans of Pittsburgh taking sides.
I get it, both of these examples are the team trying to keep the player, but that is a slight difference between the world of football and American football. All parties need to agree to terms in Arsenal’s case — both clubs and player — not just two teams. In American sports, players feel even more like a tradable commodity and investment.
There is a rising shift in sport as player power and team power balances more than it ever has before. Ozil and superstars bring a lot to a club, whether you want to scream “no one is bigger than the club”, or not. And it’s true, he’s not bigger. The club will definitely continue on, as Arsenal are ready to demonstrate, but along the way we saw a peak example of when athletes and teams play a game of tug of war wielding their influence and power to keep ahold of and dictate situations. This is simply what it looks like when both go to the full extent of their ability rather than find an agreement or go their separate ways.
If you wanted my take on the situation, with an attempt to fill in gaps — Arsenal are saving money by not selecting Ozil. They spent a good amount of that money they will save to pay for Partey. They got tired internally of the questions and comments every week about his absence. Tired of feeling like he was making a fool of them by being proven right to not take a pay cut or offering to pay for their redundant employees. And when money can be saved by not playing a player that isn’t worth his fee, they seized the opportunity to say, “we wash our hands of the whole thing, because we can”.
As for backlash, its relatively safe despite what some may have you believe. Those upset by Ozil’s treatment would continue to be upset if he were registered and never saw the field, and those that side with the club will applaud their definitive action. Even if those Ozil fans did migrate to other teams, the Premier League is becoming more about TV money, anyhow.
Not registering him feels like the club dropping the proverbial atomic bomb on the situation and answering all questions surrounding what they would do about Ozil with a resounding “hush now, we’re moving on”.
As stupid and vicious as men are, it is a lovely day.