The Wonderful Wizard of Özil

The wizard himself

Barely 3 minutes had elapsed in today’s Euro 2012 1/4 Final when I knew that once again Mesut Özil would play another star role in Germany’s performance…sliding like a knife through butter between the Greek midfield unit to an un-markable inside right position, it was as if time stood still. The Greek defenders froze in awe has in one swift instinctive movement Özil received the ball on the half turn, used his eyes and body as a disguise to slide a delightful reverse through ball for Miroslav Klose who was inches away from controlling and finishing inside the box – as the final scoreline of 4-1 proved Greece were in for a long night and the source of their problems was Germany’s attacking midfield magician the ‘wizard of Özil’.

Game Breaker

As coaches we dream of having at our disposal a player in our ranks who at any given moment can “break” the structure of the game and opponent in a moment of genius, and in Mesut Özil Germany have him.

The striking thing about Özil is that he doesn’t just effect the game at any given moment, he effects the game all the time. Watching him today glide around the middle and attacking third of the pitch, constantly checking his surroundings as he moved painting mental pictures in preparation to receive and conjure up his next spell he was simply unplayable.

So lets get the facts clear…Özil is not in the team to defend (see here), but he more then makes up for his lack of defensive skill-set  in the work he does with the ball – which is of a frightingly high level and game after game very consistent and very effective.

Todays game vs Greece was no exception where the German wizard was a constant threat in the middle and attacking thirds of the pitch. Below is a sample of Özil’s work in the attacking 1/3:

Creativity…being a step ahead

Everytime Özil touches the ball he makes something happen; breaking opposition lines, drawing defenders/midfielders out of position, plays precise laser guided passes into the feet of his attackers and/or behind defenses, provides constant support and reference points for Germany’s attacking moves…and the list goes on!

My question though is how does he makes everything look so easy? Why does everything he do look predetermined? Almost like the opposition players stand no chance to effect his decision making and creativity?…

Its not Mesut Özil’s outstanding technical ability he possess in that wand of a left foot, although it certainly helps…its his mind that fuels his creativity to keep him almost always a step/pass/move/picture ahead of the competition.

During the game, players must continually take in large amounts of information, process and assess the situation, rely on past experiences to determine a plan of action. They must also remain flexible to unfamiliar situations and new opportunities that arise…and to make things a little bit harder, the plan of attack must be formulated, executed and revised in a matter of milliseconds.

These plans of action can be better described as “executive functions” that describe cognitive processes that regulate both thought and action. These processes include planning, problem solving, creative thinking, use of feedback, and cognitive flexibility (quickly altering the plan of action). Thinking about those cognitive processes in more detail and after watching Mesut Özil in action today you can see his brain working in perfect harmony with his body:

Mesut Özil…always a ‘step’ ahead of the rest

Planning: Where is possession being developed from? 

Problem Solving: How can I effect my marker and his unit?

Creative Thinking: Obtain positions between units/players to create hesitation & uncertainty

Feedback: Observe & Understand my surroundings by painting pictures with my eyes as I move.

Cognitive Flexibility (Altering Plans): Receiving under pressure, bad touch, double team, team mate movements.

Its the ability Mesut Özil has to turn these thoughts into an action in a millisecond that keeps him a ‘step’ ahead of the rest and often leave defenders in his wake.


Todays performance by Mesut Özil reminded me how lucky we are as coaches, students and fans of the game  with the level of talent on show. Players such as Mesut Özil give us fantastic examples and references to draw from and inspire the players we work with – they remind us that we need to create and develop more free thinking players who can effect games not only when they have the ball but all the time.

We work tirelessly on organizing our teams, giving our players detailed instructions on what their roles are within a position but do we over look the importance of encouraging players to ‘break the mould’ when they are out on the pitch?

As coaches we need to provide environments where players are constantly being testing not just physically but mentally – working their brains as well as their bodies. Are the exercises specific to the game? recreating situations in a game? are they providing a catalyst for players to develop their action planning and problem solving processes…their “executive functions”?

Unfortunately executive function may be a trait that is overlooked when developing and identifying talented players. Coaches should look beyond simply selecting potential players only on their physical capacity, ball control and how well the player performs. These characteristics of executive functioning, problem solving and creative play certainly help make Mesut Özil the player he is today and stand out at the very highest level, and i’m sure that without his problem solving and creative skill-set Germany would not be the team they are today.

Reference: The science of soccer:
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