When it comes to standing out in Real Madrid’s decorated history, there are several paths an attacking player can take; becoming an elite goal scorer (Ferenc Puskás, Hugo Sánchez, Raúl, etc.), making a G.O.A.T case for themselves (Di Stéfano and Cristiano Ronaldo), and/or shining as a world class playmaker (Raymond Kopa, Guti, Zidane, Figo, Modric, etc.), among other avenues. Mesut Özil unquestionably belongs in the latter category, with his unparalleled vision and lethal final passes making him the best pure #10 in the world in his three seasons at the Bernabéu.
Preferring to operate as the central attacking midfielder in José Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1, Özil played a critical role in deconstructing opposition defenses with his killer balls and combination play. He relished sitting between the lines and in zone 14, where he would use his delightful first touch and elusiveness to spin away from defenders and caress through balls into the runs of Cristiano Ronaldo and co. If the through ball wasn’t on, Özil used his central positioning to invite rapid passing connections to bamboozle defensive structures and fashion shooting opportunities for himself and others.
When needed, the German star was also comfortable playing on the right-wing, where he would use his underrated change of pace and toolkit of hesitation moves to progress play single-handedly. Combine those skills with his brilliant crossing ability, penchant for swinging diagonal through balls to forwards making blind-side runs, and one-two passing moves, and he was a more than adequate wide option who provided depth and a tactical alternative to Di María and José Callejón.
And of course, I would be remiss not to mention the crucial role Özil played in Real Madrid’s lightning counter-attacks - the posterboy of Mourinho’s tactical blueprint. Put simply, Mesut was the fulcrum of Los Blancos’ transition moves and his speed of thought and passing accuracy was the perfect complement to the skillsets of players like Ronaldo and Di María.
Finally, Özil was tasked with delivering pinpoint crosses from corner kicks, something that he excelled in; he managed 11 assists from corners and averaged 1.35 accurate corners p90 in his time with Madrid.
Unfortunately for him and the club, he was forced to depart as the value and prevalence of the #10 role began to fade in modern football. But it’s still worth reminiscing about the greatness of Özil and the way he made a rare role in the game his own.