Column: Stats nerds might appreciate Mesut Ozil, but real football men know better


Graham Dougan was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.

He’ll write a column exclusively for the site and we hope you’ll enjoy his keen insight. This week he looks at the recent performances of Mesut Ozil.

To some he is a creative genius, like Picasso, Michelangelo or Vermicelli. To others he looks like Marty Feldman with TB, but there’s no question that Mesut Ozil is a player who divides opinion.

I look at him in awe sometimes. His eye for a pass is second to none except for one or two, and he has the tools to unpick the lock of every defence in world football apart from a few I can think of.

But for the most part he’s got great ability on the ball. The questions are over how hard he works. For all the incisive passing and ‘assists’ he provides, there’s a sense – and sadly as there’s no way to back this up definitively I have to trust my gut and my eyes – that he doesn’t work as hard as he should.

The shoulders slump, the head goes down, he ambles around the pitch, and you think to yourself ‘If only he had a bit of someone like Scotty Parker in him, he’d be the complete player’.

I’m reminded of Top Trumps, where each card is assigned a number to different criteria, and Ozil would be a great one to have if the category was ‘vision’ or ‘creativity’ but he’d definitely be a poor one to hold if you were trying to beat someone for ‘passion’ or ‘wanting it’ or ‘running around to make the opposition’s life difficult’.

I remember the Arsenal fans dancing with joy when Ozil was signed from Real Madrid for what was then a club record fee. Are those fans dancing now? I can’t see into everyone’s house like God, but while I’m sure a few are still bopping away, many more are standing in the corner holding their pint of best and thinking ‘This man does not stir my loins the way he did when he first arrived’.

Nowadays, people try all sorts of ways to prove to you that a player is good. They churn out the stats and for those of us who really understand the game we know they are nonsense. Back in my day there was no such thing as an ‘assist’. There was only a goal and occasionally a ‘Bloody good pass, Trevor’, but we didn’t give out a prize at the end of season award to the player who had made the most ‘assists’ because football was a team game back then.

I mean, where will it stop? Will they start producing stats for how far a player runs during a game, or how many touches of the ball he has? We can all see that when we watch the match but there’s no need to count because football isn’t about numbers it’s about goals which, of course, can be counted like numbers but in reality they’re not.

As for all this Expectation Goals nonsense, give me strength. I’ll tell you when you can expect a goal: when you get a good cross into the back post and one of your two burly centre-forwards straight-arms the centre-half in the back of the head and powers home a header.

Going back to Ozil, he was superb against Spurs in the derby two weeks ago, and his display against Huddersfield helped Arsenal to a win they didn’t really deserve, but you have to ask where has that been for the last few years? It’s all well and good turning up for two games, but what else has he done?

Where was he when Arsenal really needed him? You think back to the FA Cup last May and I barely remember him playing and but for the stout defending of Per Mertensacker they would have lost that game.

I remember when I was playing, a teammate had two cars. One was his day to day vehicle for getting to and from training, the other was a luxury motor which looked good, drove like a dream, and got him where he needed to go faster than anyone else and in some style.

That’s Ozil, and what Arsenal really need is a good old fashioned Ford Granada.

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