It was 18th century writer Samuel Johnson who stated: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
Mesut Ozil smiles when he hears the quote. “I’ve always felt at home here,” he nods. “London is a different calibre, a city with so many different cultures and that’s something I’ve never seen before. That gives me the opportunity not just to learn one culture. Wherever I go, you get to meet so many different types of people and that’s something that fascinates me.
“That’s also why I love living in London. It’s just unparalleled and when my family who live in Germany come to visit London, they are all really positive about the city and how nice it is. I can only confirm that.”
Mesut grew up in Gelsenkirchen, a heavily-industrialised city in Germany’s Ruhr. It was here, in the concrete Affenkafig - or monkey cage - that the World Cup winner first honed his talent. Football was a part of his daily routine. It didn’t matter if it was dark or if it was snowing. He would always play, mostly with his older brother and friends, often pretending to be Zinedine Zidane.
At the time of the 2009 German Census, the small suburb in which he spent his childhood, Bismarck, was home to around 16,000 inhabitants. On first viewing, the area could not be much more different to London. But just like England’s capital city, Bismarck is a cultural melting pot, housing people from all over the world.
“The neighbourhood I grew up in was one where lots of foreigners had settled,” Mesut explained to the official matchday programme last year. “Not just Turks but people from all over: Lebanese, Middle Eastern, African, a real mixture! It maybe wasn’t the nicest neighbourhood or the prettiest but I had so many friends living nearby, friends from all those different backgrounds, and that meant I loved my childhood there.
“Some families in my neighbourhood occasionally went through difficult times and football was the answer for us children. It was an escape for us. You loved playing because it meant you had no problems. You would stand on the pitch and football would be the only thing. It didn't matter if you were rich or poor or if you were German or Turkish. Football united us and we'd always be in such a good mood afterwards.”
Embracing different ways of life has always been vital for Mesut. His grandparents moved to Germany as guest workers and his grandfather worked in the mines, eventually settling in North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most-populated state. That multicultural upbringing helped him to settle quickly into London when he arrived in 2013.
“It’s really nice, to live here especially because I didn’t have to acclimatise to anything, he explains. “In Madrid, you have to slightly adapt to the Spanish culture. But because of the many cultures here, it gave me the opportunity not to have to really adjust to the way of life. You have many different cultures here.
“It’s really good. You have the opportunity to take a bit from every culture. If you want English, Japanese or German cuisine, you can have that. There’s a bit of all cultures here and that’s why it’s never boring. You have lots of opportunities to try new things, and it’s exactly like that with food. Nowhere else do you have the possibilities that you have in London. That’s why I like to go out in the evening and try different things, not just one type. I especially like Turkish food but am open to trying food from other cultures and I do that.”
Mesut is no stranger to experiencing new environments - he was only 19 when he moved some 150 miles away from home to join Werder Bremen from hometown club Schalke 04.
“Gelsenkirchen is where I was born and grew up, and where my family and friends live,” he says. “I’m really connected to the city. I began my football career there and have really nice memories of Schalke. At the time I had a coach, Norbert Elgert, who always supported me so well and took me forward, just like Schalke. I had the opportunity to play professional football there and because of that I’m very thankful for that time.
“Then I went to Bremen and had some really nice times there. People from Bremen love Werder and when I think back to my spell there, it was a great experience for me. I really enjoyed living there and the people were very friendly.”
His two-year stint in north Germany took Mesut to the next level. He scored the winner in the DFB Pokal final - the country’s equivalent to the FA Cup - in his first full season at the club and helped Werder to qualify for the Champions League in the next. After impressing both domestically and at the 2010 World Cup, Mesut was on the move again, this time to Real Madrid.
“In 2010, I took my next step and moved to Madrid,” he remembers. “That’s something I’m very, very proud of. I was able to work with some of the best footballers in the world and the city was interesting, because it’s a world city too. The weather was great - for six or seven months, you would only see the sun. I experienced a lot there, enjoyed my time.”
Then, of course, came Arsenal and the subsequent move to London.
“I’ve always felt comfortable here, especially because my friends and team-mates have supported me so well,” he remarks. “The city is very interesting too.
“I really like the English culture, and the sense of humour. For example after we won the FA Cup final in 2014, I shouted “ja Gunners ja” into the camera and it’s almost become a cult here. The fans have supported me so well and that’s why I do it. When I post on Instagram, I always use the hashtag #YaGunnersYa. I like that humour and find it nice.
“I like to be in London because the city has so much to offer. That’s why I love living here. I don’t think you have as many choices as in London anywhere else in Europe. There are many things to do here, many options for how you spend your time, and that’s really good for us. I come from Gelsenkirchen, from a small city where there aren’t as many options as in London. That’s why I’m relishing my time here.”
Family play a particularly important part in Mesut’s life and with London only an hour’s flight away from Germany, opportunities to spend time with his nearest and dearest are often forthcoming.
“Especially when I’m at home, the people who know me are aware that I don’t really like to talk about football. I prefer to switch off completely. That’s why I spend a lot of time with my family and friends. They know me and know how I like to switch off. When I’m off the pitch, it’s most important for me to spend that time with my family.
"The fans have supported me so well and that’s why I do it. When I post on Instagram, I always use the hashtag #YaGunnersYa. I like that humour and find it nice"
“I like to spend time with my friends. What do we do? We often go out to restaurants in the evening. I’ve got a favourite restaurant in north London, where I go a lot. Apart from that, we’ll do things spontaneously. My family and friends often come to visit and we’ll decide what we want to do. If they want to get to know the city and see the tourist attractions, we’ll go and take a picture as a nice memory. We won’t strictly arrange exactly what we’re going to do and say ‘right today we’re going to do this, this and this’.
“I also like spending time at home but we don’t just stay there. In fact it’s the opposite, we venture out and go and see places “In the past I heard a lot about London and how interesting the city is. Before I joined Arsenal, I had never actually visited the city. Now I live here and am enjoying it.”
That enjoyment is not just limited to Mesut’s life away from football. His performances in the second half of the 2014/15 season give testament to that. The playmaker produced probably his most consistent run of form in an Arsenal shirt upon returning from a knee injury in January, winning two player of the month awards and crowning the campaign with a second FA Cup winner’s medal in as many years.
“I feel at my happiest when I’m on the pitch with a ball at my feet and I’m really enjoying that now,” he told us in the June edition. It’s clear that Mesut is relishing life at present - both on and away from the football pitch. And with the boy from Bismarck hungry for more success, there is every chance that the 2015/16 season could be a very special one for him and for Arsenal.
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