Arsenal fans will wax lyrical about Ozil’s seamless control over the ball on the pitch. His feats may seem close to superhuman to the rest of us, but you’ll be surprised to learn that it had very humble beginnings. A lot of it had to do with juggling everything and anything within reach.
Growing up, Ozil would find whatever was handy and not too breakable and practice juggling it.
“I would always go on vacation with my friends and we would always play games like two touch using a tennis ball, or play with a basketball, which is heavier than a normal ball.”
Never a traditionalist, he didn’t just stick to boring old balls. You’ll be impressed by how ingeniously he’s co-opted the materials on hand.
“[I didn’t just play] with chewing gum or tennis balls, sometimes with basketballs or medicine balls too – even ones that are 5kg, though that is very difficult. Sometimes on the pitch if the game has finished and I see some tape on the floor, I’ll take it and play with that too.”
Honing your football by developing a seemingly unrelated skill is a crafty way of maintaining an edge against the competition. That’s all well and good, but toughening himself in a significant was a large part of a process, perhaps the largest. From an early age, he learned to play with the big boys his brother hung out with. Not quite hardcore enough? Try tackling opponents twice your size on a pitch of stones. Yes, you heard us right.
“What helped me before was playing against older people. I would play against my brother and his friends and they were always five or six years older than me.
“When I was 11, they were already 17 or 18. It was tough to play against them and the pitch I grew up playing on wasn’t that nice, it always had stones in it.”
We can’t even begin to imagine how unimaginably painful the whole ordeal must have been. There are injuries enough on a cushioned grassy field, but you get twice the pain from scraping against rocky gravel. Certainly the least fun part of becoming the man he is today, but Ozil insists that it was probably the most valuable experience leading to his whirlwind success on the pitch.
“You had to be really concentrated when you got the ball. I think that kind of stuff helped me more.
“Juggling with tennis balls is good but I think what helped my technique was the pitch I grew up on in Gelsenkirchen.”
As with anything, beauty is pain.