For centuries, humans have struggled to prove the existence of ghosts. Every one of us has felt a shiver late at night, heard an odd voice in a poorly lit room, and sensed in our bones a foreign presence. TV shows proliferate in which individuals use the latest technology to try and monitor paranormal activity. The result? Inconclusive. Videos show flashing light. Audio reproduces strange sounds. We rightly ask – do ghosts exist? We answer: maybe. Yet the TV shows still give us goosebumps and nightmares.
After 90 minutes of a Real Madrid game, some ask: does Ozil exist? Did you even see him on the field? However, Madrid won. Many say Ozil was essential. Was he? We struggle to invent new statistics like “secondary assist” to prove his merits. We stare at heat maps after a game. We draw up chalkboards. Yet the very essence of Mesut Ozil is to avoid detection either by the defense or us. We struggle to reduce to material terms his immaterial brilliance. Ozil is a ghost of the game. He terrifies the opposition. And that is his greatest accomplishment.
The box-to-box midfielder has died. Today, new roles and names have propagated for the men who lurk between defenses and forwards. Do you play as attacking midfielder behind two forwards? You are an enlace or treqartista. Better yet, are you a deep-lying playmaker? You may be an enganche or regista. Are you too advanced to be a midfielder yet not enough of a classic finisher to be a forward? You’re a false nine. Yet Ozil still evades these new monikers. He is no enlace. He plays too forward to be an enganche. He plays with a forward teammate and is no false nine. What is he? Mesut Ozil is Mesut Ozil. And that is terrifying.
A few years ago, I noted that Dirk Kuyt took a fundamentally beautiful act, the consummation of a goal, and covered it with the deepest red of blood. Kuyt struggled to torture and butcher. He brought the majesty of the goal into the lowest and most degrading realm of the human. He labored to score in a gory and horrific way. He was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of highlight reels. Not Mesut Ozil. Ozil does not hunt; he stalks. Ozil does not bludgeon; he stabs. Ozil creates goals yet stays above such lowly matters.
How does he do it? He floats around the football field. He glides where others walk. He lurks just out of eyesight. He stalks his prey with the intimacy of a shadow. He feels the defenses’ edges and weak points with his unblinking gaze. He materializes when he so desires; never too soon, never too late. Defenders reach for his shirt but grasp at nothing. Studs tackle thin air. Some praise Ozil as a “thinking” player. However, Ozil is not playing chess: he’s playing hide and go seek. And he’s playing by his own rules of physics.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Footprints in grass show traces of him all over the field. He leaves an indelible mark on the game. You see it on the scoreboard. You see it in teammates’ praise. Yet when you try to apprehend the suspect, the trail runs cold. Ozil’s essential characteristic is the inability to fully detail his essential characteristic. Soccer is a materialistic game of winners and losers decided by goals. Ozil participates, but on a different plane. The ball moves through him like a phantasm through a closed door.
He provokes fear in the opposition. How do you stop an entity with no clear stopping and starting point? A center back feels a presence. He looks to his left. Nothing. He glances to his right. Nobody. In a millisecond, the split pass cuts him and his companions to ribbons. He turns his hip and stretches out a leg, but falls in vain. He can’t cut out the pass. From the ground, he turns and sees the specter. The phantom floats over to the corner flag and possess the goalscoring teammate. Then the specter disappears from whence he came. Just out of sight.
We may never prove the existence of Mesut Ozil. His career may dissipate in the blink of an eye. Yet we will always feel his presence. Fear lingers long after.