Not many would have expected, as recently as two or three days ago, that it would be Arsenal who brought the best player to the Premier League during the transfer window.
But, as we are always told, anything can happen on deadline day. So it was Arsenal – the club who had not spent a penny in fees until last night, who had made their first recruits Yaya Sanogo and Mathieu Flamini, both for free, who had pulled out of signing Gonzalo Higuain, who seemed desperately averse to spending money – who yesterday deposited £42.5m of it with Real Madrid in exchange for their subtle and graceful creator Mesut Ozil.
The German is an unfortunate victim, like so many before him, of the relentless star-gathering which almost seems to be the entire point of Real Madrid. This summer they have spent a total of nearly £150m on Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Gareth Bale. There are only so many places to go around, so much money and prestige to be divided – and so Ozil is being squeezed out.
This is no real judgement against his record or talents in three years at the Bernabeu. After arriving from Werder Bremen in the summer of 2010 – choosing Real ahead of Manchester United – he was a regular part of Jose Mourinho’s sides, directing their fast counter-attacks and picking passes. Ozil helped win the Copa del Rey in 2011 and was central to the famous regaining of the La Liga title, the dethroning of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, in 2012.
When Real won 2-1 at the Nou Camp, in April 2012 to win the league for the first time since 2008, it was Ozil’s brilliant dart and pass to Cristiano Ronaldo which made the winning goal. Mourinho went on to describe him as “the best No 10 in the world”, compare him to Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, and promise that he “will make history at Real Madrid”.
Mourinho was wrong on that last point but that is the pace of change at Real. In recent years Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder have both been spat out and gone on to win the European Cup with another team.
So Ozil needed a club and there were Arsenal, with money to spend. Arsène Wenger said with a knowing smile on Sunday night that Arsenal were only looking at “one or two super players”, and that “maybe in 24 hours we can surprise you”.
There is an argument that what Arsenal most needed yesterday was a full-back, a centre-forward, a goalkeeper, another holding player and maybe a left-winger. But there is another better argument that what they needed was elite quality, conviction, grace and profile. Ozil, a player at the top of his craft but still with time to progress, transforms Arsenal from a club which world-class players leave to one which world-class players join. He is expensive, certainly, but he is worth it.