Originally posted on Goonersphere.
Arsenal and Germany’s Mesut Ozil has forged a reputation for having an almost telepathic ability to present goalscoring opportunities to teammates. His unwavering talent for ghosting past opposition with his excellent ball control and his first class passing skill has seen him cement his place amongst the higher echelons of current-day players.
It could have been so different.
Born Hassan Selcuk Ozil in the Bodrum region of Turkey, ‘Mesut’ was brought up amongst poverty. His father Hashish and mother Ella struggled to cope with 14 children in the confines of a two bedroom apartment. Ages ranged from twenty all the way to the youngest, who was Mesut. What they lacked for fiscally, they more than made up for in family values and the love bestowed upon the children.
None of the children benefitted from a strong education and Mesut was no different, choosing to follow his older brothers playing football with all the other kids from the same neighbourhood. The girls in the family were taught from an early age to take up the family art of caricatures and every morning, the family members who followed in the footsteps of their parents set up their easels in the tourist hotspots of Bodrum, hoping to glean enough money so the whole family could eat.
Mesut tried and failed to aid his family via tourist caricatures. His efforts on canvas were ridiculed by his brothers as every drawing always resulted in extraordinarily large eyes, but his parents, while disappointed that the Ozil income wouldn’t increase, were sure that their youngest offspring would blossom into a talented young man.
Years of foregoing school and a near constant presence on the local football pitch began to pay off for the waif-like figure of Mesut. At a mere eight years old, he had been plying his talents against kids who were far older and bigger than he and each one left the pitch feeling embarrassed by the bulging eyed short-arse. His shining light was soon spotted by Fenerbahce scouts and he had trials set up which could catapult this young talent from obscurity.
Trials with big clubs represented the sole exit for most young boys in the ramshackle area that Ozil and his compadres called home. The hour of Mesut’s big chance was upon him and eyes from all the big clubs were keenly sharpened for a glimpse at this unknown scrawny kid who could run rings around the opposition.
The match got underway and Mesut’s family were in the crowd cheering on the youngest of their ranks. He didn’t let them down and was dazzling the men who symbolised his passage to stardom. The children and young adults who made up the team faced with the difficult task of stopping the fleet-footed Ozil started to take umbrage with the scallywag who was ruining their chances and soon enough, the rash tackles started to fly in.
One lad – who had been turned so many times by the young Mesut that he had vomited on the sidelines twice in the first half – took it upon himself to end the torment. From twenty yards away, his eyes locked on Ozil. With every iota of focus he flew towards his new nemesis with the sole intent of splitting him in half and hopefully regaining the gaze of the scouts.
The young Ozil already had a honed awareness level and knew of the challenge before it made contact. He received the ball and instantly hurdled the flailing boots and legs of his would-be hatchetman. The trajectory of the prospective thug took him in the same direction of Mesut however. Mesut’s landing saw his studs find a nice soft spot in the nether regions of his attacker and he went on his way. The fate of the hoodlum was darker though. He was stretchered off and his chances vanquished. Unbeknown to Mesut, he was the heir to the largest family fortune in Turkey and vast things were to be his future. His family ruled the country behind the scenes through a mixture of cash and fear and they didn’t take kindly to their little sunbeam being left prone on a stretcher with crushed man-baubles.
The security forces that formed a protective ring around the powerful clan were ushered onto the pitch to apprehend Mesut and make him answer for his supposed crime. The match official – seeing the ruling family were behind the fracas – blew the whistle and the match was suspended. Mesut saw these hulking men hurtling towards him and immediately flew towards his family. They all headed toward the exit of the stadia.
Hashish Ozil, realising there was no escape from the all-powerful family, issued orders to the rest of his family to split up and confuse the chasing pack. He then ran with Mesut towards the local harbour where his Uncle Flinkle had a cockle ship. He told his brother to set sail far away from the country with Mesut Ozil on board. He said a tearful farewell to his youngest child and thanked his brother for giving Mesut a second chance.
Mesut and his Uncle Flinkle sailed for days. His dreams ruined, his beloved family never to be seen again, Mesut was despondent, despite his Uncle entertaining him during the long hours at sea with lessons in the fine art of cockle-luring. His nights were spent on deck looking up at the stars and wishing with all his might for another chance to see his family.
After what seemed like months at sea but what was really a week, they moored up in Germany. His Uncle had a second family in Gelsenkirchen and Mesut was welcomed into the household as one of their own. Uncle Flinkle shared his time between Turkey and Germany and Mesut flourished under the more organised nature of Germany’s education system – despite the initial language barrier. Germany had a healthy number of Turkish immigrants and Mesut wasn’t alone in having roots further afield.
His upheaval and recent tragedy didn’t prove to be an obstacle to his footballing rise to glory though. Soon enough another opportunity arose thanks to him standing head and shoulders above his cohorts in school and he was soon signed up to Schalke.
The rest is history. His tough upbringing and awful wrench leaving his family acted like fuel to his desire for success and he never gave up on his dream. His name? Well, that came from an age-old Ottoman phrase meaning ‘ He with eyes’.