Of all the things Mesut Özil would want to do on a sweltering Thursday in August 48 hours before the start of a new Premier League season, one can imagine that piling on thick sheepskin coats wouldn’t feature prominently. But that’s exactly what he is doing, modelling winterwear for Esquire in the middle of summer, in a penthouse studio in north London after a day training with Arsenal Football Club. A gaggle of onlookers – stylist, photographer, videographer, writer and assorted assistants, plus his own crew of agents (two) and publicist (one) – watch him stroll determinedly across a rooftop in several thousand pounds’ worth of grey suede, then moonwalk across the floor in desert boots (which is harder than you think, even for him).
For Özil, 26, scrutiny of this kind is no big deal. Since signing for Arsenal in September 2013 for a reported £42.5m, making him reputedly the most expensive German player of all time – not to mention the first real megastar purchase by the chronically frugal Arsène Wenger – he has been watched. Watched to see if he can deliver in the Premier League the kind of performances he puts in for Germany’s national team; to see if Wenger is going to get his money’s worth; to see if, behind those impassive Bambi eyes, it’s possible to work out what Mesut Özil is really thinking.
Such speculation, Özil points out, carefully balancing Esquire’s Dictaphone on his knee and speaking through his lawyer/agent who’s acting as interpreter, is not new to him: “I’ve been in this business so long now, I’ve been a professional since I was 16, 17,” he says (his first team debut was for Schalke 04, before moving onto Werder Bremen and then Real Madrid). “I don’t care what the press thinks about me as football changes from day to day. You can play well one day and badly the next. I’m used to it.”
Anyway, if you’re in any doubt of his abilities, you can always check his website, mesutoezil.com – tagline, “Why should I subdue the world, if I can enchant it” – which offers a running tally of stats about his performances (he’s out until January 2015 with a knee injury but prior to this he had one goal and one assist from six games, 402 passes and passing accuracy of 88 per cent). It’s a useful means of keeping his fans updated, he says, not to mention monitoring his own performances. “If something on the pitch doesn’t work I get upset,” he admits. “I’m a perfectionist, I want to try to make everything perfect.”
Fans can also keep track of him through his Twitter feed – 8.2m followers and counting – which features a steady stream of positive exclamation mark-heavy messages and pictures of Özil at work and play: hanging out in Las Vegas; on court with Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose; dressed as Superman at Arsenal’s Christmas party. He even tweeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to wish her happy birthday (she didn’t reply directly, though a message of gratitude was reportedly relayed through the German Football Federation).
Like all 21st-century celebrities, Özil understands that where his public is concerned, sometimes you have to give a little: “They want to know more about me personally, where I go on holiday, where I’m going to eat. I try to take pictures of places I go as much as I can, to keep that developing.” And for all the attention, wanted and unwanted, Özil is settling in England just fine. He says he has faith in his manager, Wenger – “he knows what he wants and I know he can bring me a step forward; he trusts me in that way and I trust him, completely” – and is happy at his club. “I’m proud to be part of this team.”
The transition to Arsenal was probably made easier by the presence of his national teammates Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, both of whom feature heavily in his Twitter snaps. “Of course, we have a different relationship than with the other players,” he admits, “but, generally, I get along with every player.” The trio were all in the squad that won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which Özil admits in English and with a knowing laugh, “was an amazing night…” But now he’s got that trophy in the bag, doesn’t everything else seem somewhat insignificant?
“For a team, it’s the biggest thing to get and we got it,” he says, “but as a player, there are other things – being the best player in the world, other cups, the Champions League…” And perhaps, further down the line, there’s always the option to explore coaching or punditry – he’s already got the whole sheepskin thing down. (This suggestion causes a long aside and some confused expressions as his publicist tries to explain the style history of English managers of the Seventies – and John Motson.)
“For now, I’m not making any plans for after my career,” he says. “I’m just really happy to be here.” And, as he glides back across the studio floor, wearing an inch of animal skin in 22°C heat, you can’t help but believe him.