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Dublin: 7°C Saturday 16 January 2021

'You have biting and fighting' - Mesut Ozil has written a book about life in the Premier League

Despite it all, the German says the experience has made him a better player.

Image: Steven Paston

ARSENAL STAR MESUT Ozil believes that playing in the Premier League has made him a tougher player, such is the ruthlessness of the league.

The Germany international spent his first six years in professional football plying his trade in the German top flight before switching to Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2010.

Ozil is currently in his fourth full season at Arsenal, which many believe will be his last as contract negotiations at the Emirates continue to drag on, and the playmaker believes it has been his most difficult spell in the game.

“The Premier League is the toughest challenge I’ve experienced in football,” Ozil says in his new book, Gunning for Greatness: My Life. “If you can’t take it here, without whining, then you’re history. It’s something I had to get to grips with in the first few weeks and months after my switch from Real Madrid.

“Whereas in Spain the entire game is based on elegant ball play — even teams from lower leagues try the same — in England you have scratching, biting and fighting. In England, football is one tackle after another. There’s barely any respite.

“Generally this doesn’t happen in Spain because the ball is constantly on the move. Pass, pass, pass. The opponent rarely has the opportunity to intervene because the ball is already on the other side of the pitch.

“In England you fail to notice how hard it is during the game itself and how many attacks the body sustains. You’re so full of adrenaline that you don’t feel the pain. But then, under the shower, you discover the ‘misery’. After some matches my shins have looked as if someone has gone at them with a hammer, covered in blue marks.

“I’ve had scratches on the neck and bruises on my back, shoulders and chest from opponents’ elbows welcoming me into the Premier League when the referee wasn’t watching.

“Some opponents also gave me a right earful on the pitch soon after my move from Spain,” Ozil continued. “I’d never heard anything like it before. Nowhere is there as much chit-chat as in England. There are some players who are permanently rabbiting on. And of course it’s not exactly friendly stuff.

“For example, after I’d been brutally brought to the ground in one of my first encounters, the opponent hissed, ‘It’s not Real Madrid. We’re not in La Liga.’ And as my new best friend turned away he muttered: ‘Come on, get up boy,’ with a malicious grin.

“In an attempt to fight back I’d go running to the ref to begin with and try to ‘work’ him. Every player does it. We all try to influence the referee verbally, to raise his awareness if we’re worried about getting hurt.

“We complain so that the next time he’ll watch more carefully and spot if we’re kicked or elbowed. I do this just like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben or Lionel Messi — all players who get kicked a lot because opponents are trying to disrupt their rhythm and because sometimes it’s the only way to stop them.

“But, to my great surprise, I was forced to realise that even the English referees have their very own form of communication. In my early days at Arsenal they dismissed my appeals in a way that made me think I’d misheard them. They’d say things such as ‘Don’t whinge. You’ve got to deal with it. Welcome to the Premier League.’

Despite the struggles Ozil has endured during his time in north London, the 28-year-old has become accustomed to the physical demands of the English top flight and believes he has grown more resilient as a result of the experience.
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“Sledging from the opposition. Cutting comments from refs. And football that’s harder than anywhere else — that’s the Premier League. That’s English football,” Ozil said. “And that’s the football I’ve got used to and love today.

“At Arsenal I’ve grown tougher. I’ve learned to take so much more. I’ve toned a few more muscles than during my time at Real Madrid so I’m in a better position to meet the physical challenges.

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