In the Face of Extinction

The game of football never really seems to borrow from the essence of time by which it dares not to stop for anyone. What is currently working now, has no guarantee that it will work five years from now. Football evolves into different iterations, with trends replacing one another like a conveyor belt. As the game evolves it is imperative to change with it or face the wrath of natural selection. We arrive at precipe of the ending of an era where the 'Number 10' role that has been so glamourised—so celebrated in the modern game—is now on the verge of extinction. Only a few players that fit the mould of a true number 10 continue their practice today, but they're endangered species that’ll soon be completely discarded from the game.

Mesut Özil, heralded as one of the best number 10s in the world, has recently shown a pattern of leaving behind him a string of subpar performances. Many have pointed towards his lack of attitude or nitpicked at his lack of running—both non-sequitur statements that cannot be held in the face of facts. Though, the issue runs deeper beneath the surface. The german's game hasn’t abased in any way, but it is the opposition that has adapted to how he plays. In basic animal kingdom happenings, a gazelle learns through close encounters how to escape from the jaws of a lion, and after time, a lion learns how to improve his hunting.

Özil has built his career on elite playmaking, bringing out weaknesses in the most stubborn defences. He picked at them with his eagle-eyed vision, striking at the smallest crevices with precision passing. The German’s greatest strength is, of course, his vision, and 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 it is attacking or defending) which causes blindness. So I ask again, how do you stop Özil’s mutant power of great vision? Impair it of course, which is what opposing managers have now employed their team to do.

Let’s enter the mind of Özil: as he receives the ball, 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 his usual passing lanes, limiting his effectiveness, in turn forcing him backwards.

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 than in Arsenal’s 4-0 pummelling by the hands of Liverpool. The German isn’t the most press-resistant player, and at times easily dispossessed.

He used to have this ability to stop time with the ball at his feet, causing illusory grandeurs into the minds of defences, though such an illusion has now been debunked—the magicians trick explained. Özil has failed to adapt his game with Darwinism chronology and with this, his position that once topped the food chain—where he brushed shoulders with other predators within the sport—has taken a slide down towards prey.

Top teams have opted for a more team-orientated approach towards playmaking, where instead of having just one player 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 German has been one of the most visually pleasing players to ever watch, with Arsené Wenger even commending him for his artistry. His vision shimmers under the fluorescent floodlights, carrying with it a sense of clairvoyance. His left foot evokes a striking beauty found in a peacock’s feathers. His passing laced 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.

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