The Warm-Up: The Mesut Ozil Industrial Complex
Jack Lang runs the rule over last night's 'thrilling' Europa League action and enjoys a ludicrous five-a-side goal...
FRIDAY’S BIG STORIES
BATE and switch
Once upon a time, the mere notion that Mesut Ozil would be playing in tawdry Europa League games during his peak years would have seemed pretty far-fetched. Imagine having that conversation with the 2011 version of yourself. “THE Mesut Ozil? Europe’s slickest playmaker? Slumming it on a Thursday night, like a hummingbird in Hades? Sorry, no. Your TARDIS must be broken.”
In fairness, Ozil playing in a Europa League game in 2019 remains newsworthy. But not for any context dissonance; it’s because Ozil playing in any game these days is a shock.
Did he do much of note in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over BATE Borisov? Not really. And yet the German was the story, his mere presence breathing interest onto what was otherwise another tedious European assignment for the Gunners. No goals, no assists, but the great Ozil Industrial Complex growled into life when the post-match interviews were conducted.
There was warm praise from Alex Iwobi, who clearly skipped the “sentences that will obviously be seized upon” section of media training at Arsenal HQ. “We know what Mesut is like because we see him in training every day,” he said. “He’s world class. We scored three goals as a result of him playing. I know if I make a run he has the vision to find me. Hopefully he can keep on playing.”
Or, if you prefer that translated directly into tabloid: “IWOBI DEMANDS STARTING SPOT FOR WORLD-CLASS OZIL.”
Unai Emery was more circumspect when asked what he had said to Ozil after the game. “Well, I said to him, ‘Carry on, be available like today, like the last two weeks.’ Today I am happy. It was like what we want from him.”
“Be available”: hardly the pep talk of the millennium, but probably a reasonable request given Ozil reached a century of absences for the Gunners in Belarus last week. And while the 30-year-old remains the ultimate conundrum, there’s one thing we upon which we can surely all agree: he’s way, way too good at football to be allowed to continue this bizarre part-timer act for much longer.
The laddy’s not for turning
Another lesser-spotted player shining in the Europa League: Callum Hudson-Odoi, who scored a late goal as Chelsea eased past Malmo. Emerson, Andreas Christensen and Olivier Giroud also impressed, as did N’Golo Kante in – shock, horror – his actual position.
But fans crossing fingers for Maurizio Sarri to have some sort of epiphany were to be disappointed. For the Italian used his post-match press conference to – yes, really – highlight the importance of the absent Jorginho to his plans.
“I think in the first 30 minutes we understood why Jorginho is very important for our team,” said Sarri. “I hope our fans will be able to understand that Jorginho, for us, is really a very important player.”
The Warm-Up is sure they’ll be very open to this kind of footballing re-education, and looks forward to the next sermon (“Why Ross Barkley replacing Mateo Kovacic is a far more nuanced tactical change than you all realise”) after the inevitable League Cup final defeat to Manchester City.
Watch out, Premier League defences: Harry Kane is nearly ready to return to the Tottenham side after five weeks out. The striker is back in training, and could even be in contention to travel to Burnley this weekend. “Everyone knows that Harry is an animal,” said Mauricio Pochettino. “He wants to be ready as soon as possible.”
Ah yes. Kane and returning from injuries sooner than is advisable. The Warm-Up has heard this record a few times before. Pochettino, though, appears to have learnt his lesson – or at least presented a straight bat when asked about Kane’s preparedness for action.
“I don’t care if he feels ready or wants to play or not,” added the Argentine. “I’ll decide with my coaching staff, with the doctor and the medical staff and sports science staff. Of course if you ask him, 10 days ago he was ready to play. But in the end the last word is always myself.”
IN OTHER NEWS (I)
OH NO YOU ABSOLUTELY DID NOT. We ran this goal through The Warm-Up’s patented Sick-and-Wrong-O-Meter, and the machine burst into flames, which we’re guessing is probably a good sign. (Although not for our pockets; this thing costs an arm and a leg to service.)
IN OTHER NEWS (II)
Wow, the title credits of this new Scandi Noir show on BBC4 are pretty dramatic. No, wait! It’s just Zenit St Petersburg fans welcoming a team bus to the stadium. Silly mistake to make. As you were.
HEROES AND ZEROES
Hero: Diogo Dalot
It can be all too easy to forget your roots when the tornado that is top-level football sweeps you off your feet. A hefty high five, then, to Manchester United’s Diogo Dalot, who surprised coaches at his boyhood team with an unexpected gift recently.
“We spoke to Diogo by Skype,” revealed Luis Travassos coordinator at Fintas Football School, where Dalot played before joining Porto’s youth ranks. “He was on the coach on his way to the match. He told us to go outside, where we found a bus for the club.
“It was certainly a shock! He prepared everything secretly, and saved a part of his first salary in England for the surprise.
“To us, an institution with so many financial problems and so little resources, the gift was enormous. Every bit of help we receive is wonderful.”
Zero: Brendan Rodgers
Celtic lost 1-0 to Valencia last night, falling to a 3-0 aggregate defeat. No great shame in that, not least because they were reduced to 10 men in the first half. But Brendan Rodgers was surely being wilfully contrary when he described it as “one of the proudest moments for me as a coach or a manager”.
Positively Guardiola-esque, but not in the best way.
"Unbeknown to him, his moves were being monitored by the repressive agencies of the dictatorship. In addition to being a player, Nando had been a student of philosophy and split his time between the pitch and acting as a teacher for the National Literacy Plan (PNA). The project, which aimed to reduce the high rates of illiteracy in Brazil, was abandoned by the military regime and the teachers were persecuted. Teaching reading, therefore, became a sign of subversion. And Nando was one of them."
Friday night Premier League football! Hello! OK, so Cardiff vs Watford and West Ham vs Fulham are hardly A-grade attractions, but it’s a lot better than nothing. Cardiff will be looking to put some pressure on their survival rivals with a third win on the spin – something they haven’t managed since April – while another defeat for Fulham could really turn the heat up on Claudio Ranieri.