Fenerbahce’s signing of Mesut Ozil from Arsenal has sparked enormous excitement among fans of the Turkish football club who have had little to celebrate in recent years.
The Istanbul-based giants – one of Turkey’s big three football clubs – haven’t won the Turkish Super League since 2014, an eternity for a club of its stature.
The signing of Ozil, 32, a Turkish-born attacking midfielder and World Cup winner with Germany, has become the biggest signing in Turkish football for many years.
The excitement was such that, according to Flightradar24, at one point, more than 300,000 people were following its London-Istanbul flight on January 18.
Yesterday over a million @Fenerbahce the fans followed @ MesutOzil1088flight from London to Istanbul. At the peak, more than 300,000 people were following the flight at the same time. https://t.co/O2XjKDO5MT pic.twitter.com/WlQvFeZkx4
– Flightradar24 (@ flightradar24) January 18, 2021
But amidst the fanfare, Ozil arrives in Istanbul with a footballing and political background and is raising the stakes this season for Fenerbahce and his beleaguered club president Ali Koc.
From a financial perspective, the transfer is – ostensibly, at least – astonishing.
Turkish football is mired in debt, in part due to years of chronic overspending on players and little financial accountability.
Although Ozil joined as a free agent, Fenerbahce – whose debt is estimated at over $ 500 million – had to launch a fundraising campaign to finance his salary, asking for donations from fans.
His three-and-a-half-year contract will earn Ozil at least nine million euros ($ 10.9 million) as well as a signing bonus of 550,000 euros ($ 667,340).
As Fenerbahce relies on selling Ozil merchandise and hopes he leads the club to the league title that would pay him a big dividend with a Champions League qualification, his arrival could further limit the club’s ability to meet its obligations. under UEFA’s financial fair play rules which dictate that clubs must break even.
This will add more foreign currency debt to a club at a time when the Turkish lira is particularly weak.
? Fenerbahçe is now on YouTube!
– Fenerbahçe SK (@Fenerbahce) January 26, 2021
Ozil took a huge pay cut to end the remaining six months of his Arsenal contract, which was reportedly worth up to 350,000 pounds ($ 480,100) per week.
He could also have made a lot more money signing with a club in the United States or Qatar.
But after earning nearly 100million pounds ($ 137.4million) during his time at Arsenal, Ozil may not have needed the money so much that he needed love and respect after a few difficult years.
Fenerbahce and Turkey seem to have a strong emotional attraction for him.
Born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, Ozil says he has supported Fenerbahce since childhood and joining this club was a “dream” movement.
“I am very excited. God gave me the chance to wear this jersey as a Fenerbahce fan. God willing, I will wear it with honor and do everything I can for the team,” a- he said Wednesday during his unveiling.
I grew up like @Fenerbahce fan as a child in Germany – every German-Turkish person supports a Turkish team when they grow up in Germany. And mine was Fenerbahce. Fenerbahce is like Real Madrid in Spain. The biggest club in the country ?? https://t.co/Y3hEba79IO
– Mesut Özil (@ MesutOzil1088) January 11, 2021
In Turkey, Ozil is a hero for some.
Part of the excitement is due to his star quality, but it is also seen by some as a sort of ‘homecoming’ for a player who has always been proud of his Turkish heritage.
It will have the number 67 – the first two digits of the postcode and license plate number of the native province of Zonguldak, in the Black Sea region of Turkey.
It seems likely that Ozil is hungry for adulation after allegedly facing racism during his international career and becoming an increasingly divisive and abandoned figure at Arsenal in recent seasons.
Some even joked that the number of people following his flight to Istanbul included many Arsenal fans who wanted to be sure he was really gone.
Arrive with luggage
Ozil was Arsenal’s record signing when former coach Arsene Wenger brought him in from Real Madrid in 2013.
During his first seasons in the Premier League he dazzled with his flair and creativity and finished with 44 goals and 77 assists in 254 appearances.
But he has also become a lightning rod for criticism and controversy.
While he made 92 international appearances and was a key part of the 2014 World Cup-winning German squad, he ended his international career in 2018 after what he called racist criticism and a scapegoat after the departure of Germany in the first round of the 2018 tournament.
“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he said.
Ozil was also heavily criticized in Germany when he posed for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
Erdogan was the best man at Ozil’s wedding the following year.
Ozil’s performance and returns on the pitch for Arsenal waned over time and he was increasingly unsightly – especially after Wenger left in 2018.
He has become deeply unpopular among many Arsenal fans. Critics have questioned his commitment to the club while receiving one of the highest salaries in the league.
More sympathetic fans pointed out his languid style of play which belied the significant distance he used to cover on the pitch and lamented the lack of playing time he was given amid his declared desire to return in the Arsenal squad.
He also found himself at odds with the club in December 2019 after his comments regarding China’s persecution of its Turkish and Muslim Uyghur minority, from which the club has distanced itself.
Ozil took more criticism after rejecting a pay cut during the COVID lockdown last year.
His last competitive appearance for Arsenal was in March 2020 but he insists he’s in good shape and Koc has said he should be ready to make his Istanbul derby debut against Galatasaray on February 6, if not sooner.
His transfer remains a bet for Fenerbahce.
Maybe Ozil will settle down quickly and excel in a league that is below the Premier League level.
But he hasn’t played for almost a year – it’s unclear how good he is now – and he might struggle to adjust to a more rudimentary style, in a physical and volatile league, to the alongside some teammates who may be far from his level.
A player is to be expected to transform a team which Fenerbahce, despite being second in the table, has long struggled for consistent form.
Koc – an urban descendant of one of Turkey’s richest families – was elected president in 2017 after pledging to reverse the club’s fortunes, fix its dire finances and develop young players while putting an end to excessive transfers which were often burdens and flops.
But with a new election slated for later this year, the club are yet to win a trophy under his leadership.
Turkish football is notoriously impatient, the pressure is immense, and disgruntled supporters and members need to be appeased. Signing Ozil might be a useful and popular bet ahead of the looming election, but it’s also risky.
Koc delivered Ozil, and now Ozil is expected to deliver this season’s title.