The “Number 10 role” that was so sort after, so celebrated in the modern game is now on the verge of extinction. The game of football never really stops for anyone, as it continues to evolve regardless. It continues to evolve to a point where the need of one specific player designed to dictate the flow of the game is becoming more obsolete with each passing season. Players of this elk who predicate their game around being specialised in solely playmaking face a realm of redundancy. Only a few out-and-out Number 10’s are continue to practice their work today; an endangered species that’ll soon be wiped from the game.
Mesut Özil was once heralded as the best number 10 in the world, but now he has shown a recent chronic issue of leaving behind him, a string of ineffective performances. Many have pointed towards, his lack of attitude or nitpicked at his lack of running – both lazy statements bloviated in true propaganda fashion. Özil’s game hasn’t subsided in any way, though it is his competition that have adapted to how he plays. A Gazelle learns through multiple close encounters with a Lion how to manoeuvre, obfuscate, escaping from the jaws of it’s predator.
In the animal kingdom, when a new species comes into the foray, there is mass confusion. The ecosystem is broken up and rearranged, and some animals suffer from this. Özil in this case entered with his elite playmaking skills bringing out weaknesses in the most ardent defences. He picked at them with his eagle-eyed vision, and struck at the smallest crevices with precision passing. His elegance, and technical ability were polarising, captivating his opponents in a trance-like-state.
The German’s greatest strength is his vision, but what is the best way to impede someone’s vision? In my very best impersonation of David Attenborough, the Spitting Cobra is a snake that spits venom from its mouth onto its prey or predator (depending on if its attacking or defending) which causes blindness. So I ask again, how do you stop Özil’s mutant power of vision? Impair it of course, which is what opposing managers have now employed their team to do. Let’s paint a picture: as Özil receives the ball to feet he looks up hoping to find a teammate in the opponent’s final third, however, now his passing lanes have been blocked off, because opposing teams are taking up positions that block Özil’s usual passing avenues, thus limiting his effectiveness, in turn forces him to pass it backwards.
Once your strengths are cancelled out your weaknesses become more glaring under the spotlight, and one of Özil’s weaknesses is his lack of physical strength. With his passing lanes blocked, he is forced to dwell on the ball, biding his time until an opportunity presents itself. But what happens if that opportunity does not present itself?
As previously stated, the game continues to evolve, and with it, the speed of the game quickens. Players learn and adapt to how you play. The time that Özil had before on the ball has shortened, teams are pressing more aggressively – no more evident then in Arsenal’s 4-0 pummelling by the hands of Liverpool – but Özil isn’t the most press-resistant player, and at times is easily dispossessed. Özil used to garner an ability where when he was on the ball time would stop, causing momentary doubt into the opposition. However, that illusion has been debunked. He isn’t feared anymore, as his role on the food chain has taken a few steps down. But this isn’t why players like Özil face extinction.
Özil is a specialised player used for a specialised role, but said role is slowly being phased out the game. Top teams have opted for a more team-orientated method of playmaking, where instead of having just one player control the flow of the game – creating chances – they have multiple players who can fulfil this role. We are now in the era of football where every single player in the squad – albeit a goalkeeper or a defensive stopper – is required to be involved in the buildup phase of the game. The ebb and flow of the game does not solely pass through the – now archaic – gatekeeper, that is the number 10 position.
The German has been one of the most visually pleasing player to ever watch. Arsené Wenger has commended Özil for the artistry he displays on the green canvas. His vision shimmers under the fluorescent floodlights, carrying with it a sense of clairvoyance. His left foot evokes an iridescent beauty found in a peacock’s feathers. His passing laden with pinpoint precision causes irrevocable devastation. Mesut Özil is a magnificent player, but he is an endangered species that faces extinction from the top-level of the game. His captivating artistry that was once ubiquitous is becoming more sporadic. And sporadic performances are dangerous things in this current world of football that yearns for instant success with bloodthirsty hunger.