The situation surrounding Mesut Ozil is complicated as the German World Champion performs a role in football that is dying out. Connor McGinn provides a positional insight into what exactly a number 10 role is and why we are seeing the position deployed less and less in the modern game.
Who is to blame for Mesut Ozil not playing?
“The way football is going at the moment it’s quick counter-pressing, quick transitions and everybody plays the same. It’s kicked out players like Ozil. Although let’s not forget who this guy is. A world champion.”
This is what Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal manager, had to say about the recent decline of his former player Mesut Ozil, from a world class attacking midfielder, to a squad player of little non-monetary significance.
Many in the media like to lay the blame for this on Mesut Ozil himself, insisting that it his character or work ethic that has led to this. But what if Ozil’s decline is emblematic of a larger tactical shift in the world of elite football, and players like Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielders in the traditional number 10 role, are being left behind?
To first answer this, we must first explore the role Mesut Ozil played in his better days, earlier for Arsenal, Real Madrid and the German National team, where he lit up the world, winning a world cup and establishing himself as one of world football’s most deadly creative forces.
What is the role Ozil played to reach the top?
The position Ozil perfected in his prime and that we know by the shirt number 10, is called the ‘Trequartista’, Italian for three quarters, showing this kind of players’s position on the pitch, the trequartista’s role has historically been solely defined by one word, creativity. Usually positioned just behind the forwards, the role revolved around passes and movement that facilitated chance creation for forwards in the final third.
Many of football’s most creative players have thrived in this role, from Zidane to Kaka, but the position is dying out, with less and less of football’s current elite teams deploying a traditional number 10. We must ask why?
Traditionally, the trequarista has been a position relived of most defensive duties, both to track back and on the press, allowing a complete focus on creative action and positioning. However, with the ever rising importance of quick pressing and the increasing speed of transitional play in modern football, a position almost completely relieved of all defensive duty, as Ozil was in his prime, is not a functional use of a player in many contemporary elite sides.
This has led to somewhat of an evolution of the attacking midfielder role, with positionally fluid and relentlessly pressing players like Thomas Muller, and deeper, harder working creatives like David Silva surviving and thriving in the new style of football where players like Ozil have fallen.
Which other players have been affected?
Mesut Ozil is not an isolated example, with many other formerly world class number 10s struggling to perform or surviving through adaptation to keep up with the demands of modern football. Juan Mata and James Rodriguez, while both operating centrally in much of their creative build up, now operate out wide on the right on the press.
Christian Eriksen, once the Premier League’s most exciting creative outlet, now struggles for game time in Antonio Conte’s demanding system and Gylfi Sigurdsson, resigned to the bench for most games, not possessing the work rate or defensive ability necessary to play at the highest level of today’s game.
So, while it may be prosperous and fruitful, for journalists to label Ozil’s situation as due to an isolated case of poor personal attitude, we must not, and should not, pretend that his situation exists in a vacuum. Though Mesut Ozil’s peak, arguably in the 2014 World Cup, may have only come six short years ago, football has evolved hugely since that point. Now, with teams playing faster, more press focused football than ever, a player with no defensive responsibility, is no longer practical.
Ozil is not alone, and though fault may be laid upon him for his inability to mould himself to what modern football requires of him, he rose to the heights of a sporting landscape that is immeasurably different from the one we see now. Ultimately, Ozil is a player who created himself into a world class version of a position that is becoming increasingly sparse in today’s elite football, but the questions remain, who is to blame? At 31, Will Ozil adapt to save his career? And with football forever developing, is any position safe from extinction in the beautiful game?
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