With just six weeks to go until the start of the 2016 European Championships in France (10th June to 10th July), the excitement is growing in the Germany camp. World Cup winner Mesut Özil is expected to play an important role for Die Mannschaft this summer. In an interview with Sport-Informations-Dienst, the Arsenal midfielder discusses the importance of national team head coach Joachim Löw, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s injury, the Premier League title race and his plans for the rest of his career.
Question: Mr. Özil, you have already spent three years in London. What are your thoughts on the city?
Mesut Özil: I am very happy that I am able to experience this incredible city first hand and that I am able to play for such a big club. Everyone who has been here knows that there’s plenty to do in London.
Question: Will you be in London next season? Barcelona are rumoured to be interested and your contract extension discussions are said to have been put on hold.
Özil: There’s no hurry, I still have two years on my contract. We will sit down at the end of the season.
Question: Arsenal are currently fourth. Do you consider it a successful season or - due to the fact that Leicester are set to be crowned champions - a chance wasted?
Özil: If we manage to finish third and secure direct qualification to the Champions League, then we have achieved our minimum aim. We certainly could have won the league this year. We didn’t pick up enough points against the little teams throughout the season though.
Question: What would you have said last year had someone told you Leicester would be champions?
Özil: I certainly wouldn’t have believed them, nobody would have. You simply have to take your hat off to Leicester. They give 100% in every single game and deserve to be top of the table.
Question: You were nominated for the Team of the Year, and you are just two assists away from setting a new Premier League record. What do these achievements mean to you?
Özil: I am very proud of what I have achieved this season. But I have always put the success of the team above individual success.
Question: After the season you’ve got the EUROs to look forward to. Sami Khedira said in the winter that Germany have no chance of winning the title in their current state. Do you agree?
Özil: I have been in the team for a few years now. There’s always been a bit of doubt ahead of tournaments. We entered into a transitional period following the World Cup, and had a few injuries. At the end of the day, we have always reached the semis, and in Brazil we went all the way. I am confident we will be where we want to be by the time the tournament gets underway. We are a team suited to tournaments. The fans expect us to win the trophy - of course. It won’t be easy; we can’t underestimate any of the teams. With that said, if we fulfil our potential, we are capable of being crowned European champions.
Question: How does the Germany team always manage to focus and come together during pre-tournament training camps?
Özil: The mood changes shortly before the tournament, anticipation grows and everyone wants to get going. When it does finally get underway, everyone is pleased to be involved on the biggest stage. At that point we want to show the world that we are Germany.
Question: Regardless of the location of the training camps, there seems to be a good team spirit. How much of that is down to Joachim Löw?
Özil: A large part. He motivates us a lot and sets us well up to face every single one of our opponents. We feel secure as we know exactly what is expected of us.
Question: Thomas Müller said after the 3-2 loss to England that it it is sometimes difficult to find the motivation for friendly matches. Is it the same for you?
Özil: No, not at all. Perhaps when we went 2-0 up we pulled out in certain situations as we didn’t want to get injuries so close to the EUROs - whereas the English players went in more aggressively. I think that’s what Thomas meant too. He is an honest player and always says what he thinks. That’s why everyone loves him. You saw against Italy that we are always determined to play good football and get good results - even in friendlies.
Question: Do you think England have a chance this summer?
Özil: Certainly. So many young players have made the step up, and they are playing as a team. England are not the only team that have a chance - France, Italy, Spain, Belgium will all be up there. There are also always a few smaller teams that take everyone by surprise - for example Greece in 2004. You have to be on top of your game.
Question: You played left forward in the World Cup. Where can we expect to see you in the EUROs?
Özil: In Brazil I had to compromise due to the injury of Marco Reus. I imagine I will be playing centrally this summer. That is my favourite position, and the head coach is aware of that.
Question: You played an advanced form of defensive midfield against Italy. Is this an option too?
Özil: Everyone knows I can play my best football in central attacking midfield. I am not going to make a fuss though and if I can help the team in another position then I will do so.
Question: It worked well against Italy. What are the differences between central defensive and central attacking midfield?
Özil: I was surprised by how much time I had. If you are further forward, then you are under pressure as soon as you take a touch. In that sense I really enjoyed playing defensively (laughs).
Question: You have 18 assists so far this season, but 'only' six goals - do you think you need to be more egotistical sometimes?
Özil: I have been told that before. If a teammate is in a better position, then I will pass to them. That is my game and I am not an arrogant player. I also won’t change my style of play. I have always played like that, and always will.
Question: Captain Bastian Schweinsteiger usually plays central defensive midfield. How important is it that he returns in time?
Özil: Very important. Bastian is an excellent player and an important character.
Question: His first year in England has been very stop-start due to his injury problems. Have you talked to him much?
Özil: Now and again. We have often discussed how difficult it is making the move to the Premier League. I am sure we will see a lot more of him in Manchester, as he feels very much at home here.
Question: You said you changed a few things going into this season?
Özil: I had a long-term injury last year and really missed playing football. Since then, I have paid more attention to my fitness and diet - especially in regards to my upper body. I made little changes, it’s not like I was eating unhealthily before. For example, I eat less bread now and drink a lot of water.
Question: Apparently the president of Galatasaray watched you as a teenager and claimed you were 'technically very good but as thin as a worm.' Were you aware of this?
Özil: No, that’s the first time I’ve heard that. I was very small and thin as a teenager. I am now 1.82m tall - not that small really, but still one of the shortest at Arsenal (laughs).
Question: How have you managed to have such as successful career?
Özil: Through my experiences in the 'cage' of Gelsenkirchen. I always played against players who were four or five years older than myself. I was quick and intelligent. In the youth teams the other players tended to be about a head taller than me. I was never scared as I was used to it.
Question: You clearly feel it is important to make use of your popularity by doing good. You recently financed a series of operations for Brazilian children.
Özil: I love children, they are our future. I always do my part to help them and will continue to do so. I am not the kind of guy to shout about this, I like to do it in privacy.
Question: You are now 27 years old - some of your colleagues retired from the national side at the age of 29. Have you thought about your future?
Özil: I hope to have a few more years ahead of me. If I feel that I am playing my final season, I will start to really think about it. There’s no point doing so at the moment. I am enjoying making a living through doing what I love. One thing is for sure, I will continue to play football when I retire. Whether that’s in the cage in Gelsenkirchen or on gravel, I don’t care. I will never stop playing football.
Question: Do you have any big aims for the rest of your career?
Özil: I will definitely return to Germany at some point. I feel at home there, and my family are all there. I’ve got a lot of options in a sporting sense. I’m not saying I’ll definitely return to the Bundesliga or that I will definitely go to Turkey. With that said, I’m not ruling it out. I may well see out my career here in England.