He came from Real Madrid. He wears the number 10. He’s left-footed. His initials are MO. You’re thinking of him, aren’t you?
Well, this teaser has become a lot harder for Arsenal fans. Martin Ødegaard is the new kid on the block and the comparisons write themselves with former playmaker Mesut Özil. Occupying the middle of the pitch, both take up the role of ‘technical leader’ on the pitch, running the attack.
Now, a little comparison never hurt anyone. Often, it’s just a little bit of fun, quite often complimentary in nature. Where the problem starts, is when comparison turns into a competition of sorts.
After Arsenal’s impressive comeback against West Ham, the Twitterverse was abuzz with fully deserved praise of Martin Ødegaard’s formidable showing. Within this praise came a jarring trend. ‘Özil never did this!’, ‘better in a couple of months than he was in 7 years’, so on and so on. This is a very, very bad idea.
They Are Not In Competition
To get one thing straight, praising one does not necessitate whining about the other. To be crystal clear, one of these men was born in 1998, the other 1988. Making a point about how their current abilities compare is as close to pointless as you can get. These are two players on near opposite ends of their careers.
At 22, Martin Ødegaard has the best stretch of his career ahead of him. In the coming years, he is likely to enter his physical and technical prime. For a player who entered the public domain as a literal child, it’s almost funny to think about how much of his career is still ahead of him.
In contrast, Mesut Özil is 32. He has already played in the Bundesliga, La Liga, and Premier League. In this time, he has seen almost a decade’s worth of international competition.
As I said, a comparison is absolutely to be expected. One is quite literally following the other in the Arsenal team. There are stylistic comparisons that do write themselves. But not everything has to be a competition.
Martin Ødegaard is Martin Ødegaard
A footballing cliché as old as time is to call every player under the sun ‘The New…’. The result is a player constantly being held up to a standard that they had no say in setting. A really good example in this case is Kai Havertz being another one of umpteen players to be called ‘The New Özil’.
Havertz’s best skill might be his eye for a good run in the final third. It’s not really an array of playmaking tricks. Upon arriving in the Premier League, Havertz began to get criticised for not being a pure playmaker. People did not care for what Kai Havertz could do, simply what he could not.
The same should not be allowed to happen with Martin Ødegaard. Ødegaard has his own bag of tricks, and, in truth, an at least moderately different style to Özil. Ødegaard so far has loved arriving to the edge of the box for a shot, he has not shown the same love for coming in from the right and stroking a pass to a left back on the run.
One of the absolute worst things to do to a player is to tell them who they are and what they must do. It creates not just pressure to perform, but pressure to do it in a specific pre-determined way. Martin Ødegaard is an incredible talent. It might be a good idea to let him play the game in his own way.
Perhaps Not a Favourable Comparison
I adore Martin Ødegaard, absolutely love him. But it is not a good idea to start comparisons to Özil in any way shape or form.
Let’s take the danger of comparing the two at 22 for example. At the ripe age of 22, Martin Ødegaard is on loan at Arsenal from Real Madrid. Real Madrid are not anywhere close to their best over the last decade. In essence, Martin Ødegaard cannot find his way into this current Real Madrid team.
At the age of 22, Mesut Özil was already a bona fide superstar. By his 22nd birthday, he had already registered the most assists at the 2010 World Cup, and just signed for Real Madrid. Mesut Özil at an incredibly young age was a staple in the 2011/12 La Liga winning side, and blew the world away with his playmaking ability. To compare the two at age 22 is a dangerous game.
Perhaps even sillier is to compare the two at Arsenal. First and foremost, this is one of the most egregious examples I have ever seen of disregarding sample size in a footballing conversation. On solely football reasons, Mesut Özil, whether you like it or not, touched creative levels in the Premier League that are nearly unparalleled.
In an Arsenal team that, being polite, did not have the best forwards, Özil set chance creation records, led the league in assists, and was quite simply a joy to watch. To see people say Ødegaard has already done things that Özil never did is so irrational a claim that you would almost think it to be an elaborate wind-up.
Without a doubt, the worst discourse of the last 24 hours is this idea that Özil ‘never grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck’. To be blunt, it’s just not true. It’s not true, no matter what expansive or contrived definition of ‘grabbing a game’ you use.
Under Arsène Wenger, Özil won several games through his own hard work (with a heap of stellar games against elite opposition). Often however, this is not enough for some, they say that the man did nothing post-Arsène. This is not true. Leicester (H) in 2018/19 is one of the best individual PL performances ever.
More recently, many people forget quite what happened at the start of Mikel Arteta’s reign. Against Chelsea and Manchester United, Özil was stellar. In his last game in an Arsenal shirt, he notched up a game-winning assist against West Ham.
Praise Ødegaard as you should, but to disrespect the talent and performance of Mesut Özil is simply unnecessary. Taylor Swift once said ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’. I’m beginning to think this sentiment may sum up football all too well sometimes.