Real Madrid icon Mesut Ozil announced his retirement from football this week, with tributes rolling in from the Spanish capital. Ozil was one of the most exciting watches in Europe during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, frequently providing more assists than anyone else.
It could have all been so different. As a 21-year-old attracting interest from all over Europe, Ozil has told Marca that he could have left Werder Bremen for Barcelona, not Real Madrid.
“That was a decision between Real Madrid and Barcelona. And in the end it was not a matter of money. I don’t know if this is known, but I visited Madrid and Barcelona at that time and the difference was Jose Mourinho.”
The Portuguese made the effort that Pep Guardiola did not, which was decisive for him.
“Mou gave me a VIP visit to Real Madrid. He took me to see the stadium and all the trophies they had won. That gave me goosebumps. The visit in Barcelona was less enthusiastic and what was more disappointing is that Pep Guardiola didn’t bother to meet me. Before that trip I really liked Barcelona’s style of football and I could really imagine playing with them, but Madrid went all out.”
“So Jose Mourinho was without a doubt the most important factor in my decision. After my visits, my decision was one hundred percent clear: I wanted to be a Madridista.”
As it was, he was very much a Madridista and admitted that he was in tears when he left Spain to join Arsenal. He struck up a close relationship with Sergio Ramos during his time in Madrid – few are more committed to Los Blancos than he is.
The importance of managers in persuading players to join is becoming increasingly clear, with the likes of Xavi Hernandez’s recruitment push a major factor in Barcelona’s transfer strategy of late. In this case, Mourinho got one over on Guardiola.