The fate of attacking midfielder Mesut Özil may not be resolved until 31 August but probably does not lie with Werder Breman in the long term after the Bundesliga club admitted the 21-year-old is likely to leave Western Germany behind. With Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United interested, the fight for Özil is the hottest of the summer.
Despite excelling both in last summer’s European Under-21 championships, for Werder and then the World Cup, Özil is available for a potentially bargain price of £12 – 15 million, with the player out of contract in a year’s time. It will still represent a healthy profit on a player signed just two years ago for €4.3 million.
That the player – an avowed Barcelona devotee – is unlikely to sign a new contract at Werder leaves open the possibility, however remote, that United may yet pull off the coup of the summer and secure the creative midfielder so patently missing from Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad this season.
Moreover, United’s interest is genuine, despite the club’s smoke and mirrors routine in recent weeks, when senior sources outright denied a potential bid for the midfielder. Indeed, Ferguson personally watched the player on Sunday night as Fulham faced Werder at Craven Cottage, with the fabricated excuse that the Scot travelled to watch upcoming opponents fooling few. Ferguson also met with Werder’s directors after the match.
Whether United will – indeed can – turn an interest into a concrete bid and then the German’s signature on a contract is another point altogether. Whatever executive management say to the contrary, United’s cash reserve is largely set aside for debt repayment so Ferguson must necessarily go cap in hand to the Glazer family, especially if a bidding war eventually erupts.
Indeed, with at least five seriously interested parties the most likely scenario is that other clubs can and will outbid United for the player, who scored 13 goals in 71 Bundesliga appearances for Werder over the past two seasons. United will certainly not enter an auction.
In addition to United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, the aforementioned Barcelona and Arsenal hold a credible interest in the player. While Chelsea is yet to spend big this summer – the Brazilian Ramires will eventually join in an £18 million deal from Benfica – money is available for Özil should manager Ancelotti continue rebuilding his midfield. After all, Roman Abramovich was prepared to sanction a £50 million bid for Fernando Torres had the Spaniard not made a lukewarm commitment to Liverpool this summer.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid is prepared to spend around €15 million to bring the player to the Bernabeu this summer, although with Rafael van der Vaart and Kaká already on the books a free transfer next season is the Madristas preferred option. Özil also may not wish to sit out the coming season on the bench in the Spanish capital, despite Kaká’s knee injury.
That problem also awaits the German youngster in Catalonia, with Barcelona’s first choice Cesc Fabregas reluctantly remaining at Arsenal for the coming season. While Özil has made no secret of his desire to join the 2009 European Champions, reports that the player is unimpressed by the blaugrana’s priorities cannot be dismissed outright.
The player’s advisers had earlier made it known playing time is a key component of any transfer leaving the player with a potential dilemma. While Barça’s new technical secretary Andoni Zubizarreta has been working on a deal to sign the player, Pep Guardiola is not necessarily on the same page according to reports.
Then there is Arsenal, which remains an outside bet, not least because Arsène Wenger is well stocked in the attacking midfield department with his captain staying in London for the next 12 months. Moreover, another central defender and goalkeeper are the Frenchman’s priorities. Wenger does, however, have significant cash funds at his disposal after the London club’s outstanding financial results last year.
However, while the many vultures circle, Özil’s agenda is vastly different from his club’s, complicating any potential deal. Agents hired by Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona are also believed to have caused delays in any transfer. With anything up to five separate parties involved with each potential deal, to numerous interested clubs, there is no guarantee of a speedy resolution.
With Werder set to lose at least the player’s transfer fee in prize money should the club be knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Fiorentina next week, there is no guarantee a transfer will take place at all. Should Özil play in the game then his value drops even further to interested parties.
All of which leaves United as an outside bet in the race to sign the player, despite the club’s need arguably being the greatest. After all even if Tom Cleverly eventually develops into the creative attacking midfielder that many at Old Trafford believe he will become, United is currently bereft in that department.
In that scenario £12 – 15 million represents overwhelming value in the market, even if it takes mammoth wages to steer the player away from Real Madrid, Barcelona or Chelsea’s clutches.
Despite this, the smart money says that Özil will eventually end up in Spain. United supporters certainly hope the story is different.