Despite all his accolades and achievements for both club and country, Mesut Özil remains one of the most polarising players in the game.
Routinely ripped by Spurs fans with “invisible” shouts down the years, Özil recently clapped back with the perfect response on Twitter, by pointing out Tottenham's "invisible" trophy cabinet. It showed the sort of character Gunners fans have been crying out for from their German playmaker, and it’s clear when we meet he’s as determined as ever to bring Arsenal back to their former glory.
Özil has maintained an elite mentality despite how regularly he's been targeted by the trolls. Resolute in being able to block out the noise, Özil is still more than capable of game-breaking moments that can have opposition teams on skates with one flick of his left boot.
It's clear that his teammates are still ready to back him on and off the pitch too. Sead Kolašinac isn’t just covering for him at full-back and on Fortnite, but straight up backing the beef in real life, as we all saw last week.
Now a senior figure in The Emirates’ dressing room, Özil is backing a new generation of young Gunners to shine and make their first-team breakthroughs ahead of a season which promises a lot of new beginnings at the club. With his passion for the club stronger than ever, Özil is ready to drive Arsenal on from an underwhelming season last year to reach their former glory he grew up watching in Gelsenkirchen. We caught up with a freshly blonded Mesut out on Arsenal’s pre-season tour of the USA to talk about playing Fortnite and FIFA with Sead, overcoming hate and the young Gunners he's tipping to shine next season.
VERSUS: New kit, new hair, I’m feeling the new look. How long are you gonna be keeping it for?
Mesut Özil: I don’t know! I just started to do it after losing a bet to Alex (Lacazette). But I quite like it. It goes with the new kit, so we’ll see!
What are your thoughts on the new kit? Do you rate the new look?
Yeah, I love the colour. You’ve seen the red one as well, and I feel like this away kit compliments it well.
What were your favourite kits growing up?
Really in my childhood, I just had one shirt that I wore growing up. It was from Zinedine Zidane. He was my idol, so I always wore the French national team shirt.
How big an influence was Arsenal to you growing up?
Of course, Arsenal was big for me. The players, the history…legends like Thierry Henry, Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg. I saw so much of those players because they were so, so good. I’m really happy that I’ve been playing for Arsenal so I can follow in the history of these sort of players and become a part of Arsenal’s story.
How big an influence was the Premier League growing up in Germany?
As a child, you don’t actually realise how big the Premier League is. But as soon as I moved here, and started playing here, it was all different. Everyone in the world recognises you, and the level of the competition has improved over the years – which is why it has become the best league in the world.
Who are the young players at Arsenal that you’re looking forward to seeing come through?
All of them are good – you can see with the young boys that they give everything in training and are working hard to get into the first team. At the end of the day, I haven’t spent a lot of time with them so far – but this pre-season I’ve got to see a few of them a bit closer. I’ve trained with Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah before for a little while, though, and I think they are both amazing players with huge potential.
They are still young and need experience, but I think they can become great players for this club. I think they’re going to get a lot more minutes this season as a result, and everyone here recognises their potential.
How important is it to be a leader for players like that in the dressing room?
As you may know, I’m a guy that stays quite quiet for a lot of the time. If these guys ask me something, I’m always there for them – but I’m not constantly hounding them telling them to do this or that. They have to learn, though. They will make mistakes, and they have to make these mistakes to learn. But these guys are really nice people, and the club helps a lot with them too.
How important is it to you to be a role model for the next generation of young people?
First and foremost, I’m a football player, so I always like giving 100% on the pitch and trying to lead by example. I’m still the same Mesut as I was growing up – so I just want to do my job right and as well as I can.
How do you maintain your elite mentality that you’ve showcased year after year, particularly in the face of haters in the game?
I have always believed I am mentally strong enough. Not everyone is gonna like you. Of course you have a lot of haters out there, but I always just think “don’t listen to them”. The most important thing is what the club thinks of you, what your family and friends think of you. For me, it’s always been like that. I just look to these people for guidance and know how to act as a result – I don’t follow anyone else.
How did you first get into eSports?
I’m a guy that plays a lot of PlayStation! I play with my friends a lot, me and Sead (Kolasinac) play a lot. I play a lot of Fortnite with him at the minute, and he’s got a bit of work to do to be better than me (laughs). But yeah, I’ve always been into playing games so I just decided with some of my friends to start an eSports team and here we are. Playing games with my friends has always been fun for me, so it’s great I can invest into something I’m passionate about.
What are your ambitions with your eSports team?
We started first with FIFA and now we’ve got a Fortnite team, and I want to carry on building the company. But at the moment we have a lot of young players who are doing very well, and they’re working very hard to get to the top, so let’s just see what happens.
What are your ambitions for the rest of the season?
Of course, if you play for Arsenal, you have to win titles. Last season was a disappointment for us as we didn’t win anything, so next season we will work hard to get in the Champions League and to win a trophy.