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Mesut Özil: "I had tears in my eyes as the plane took off from Madrid"

Football has lost one of its great magicians with the retirement of Mesut Özil. The Turkish-born German footballer (Gelsenkirchen, 1988) put an end to a brilliant career that will be remembered above all for the World Cup he won in Maracana in 2014 and his time at Real Madrid and Arsenal. Few players have moved the Bernabeu more than Mesut, who look back on his career with MARCA, seven years after his last interview.

But Özil does not want to leave without addressing the fans who were thrilled by his play and who are still wondering why he left Real Madrid. Open-heartedly, Mesut responds and admits that perhaps today he would do something different. Madrid, Mourinho, Wenger, Arsenal, Schalke, the World Cup, his farewell to the national team, the Clásicos... this is Özil's career in detail, told by the man himself.

Question. Now that you have retired: Do you, or did you, consider yourself a 'magician'?

Answer. I would never call myself this, but I always tried to make moves and passes on the pitch that nobody could expect. I think this is where this nickname comes from. And if this means the fans in the stadium felt entertained, as if they were in some kind of magic show, then I'm very happy to hear that (laughs) .

Q. Looking back at your figures, you scored 114 goals and registered 222 assists. What gave you the most pleasure?

A. Goals, assists or even pre-assists- something nobody really counts! In the end it was about winning as a team. I've always tried to make my teammates shine as brightly as possible - I think that was my style of playing football was all about doing that. I always hoped the whole team thought like that because egoism never wins on the pitch. So, I never understood when the public told me I should be more selfish and shoot more.

Q. Looking back, what is the first proper memory you have of your career?

A. During my childhood I was often told I will never make it, that I was too small...stuff like that. But I didn't listen and focused on myself. I was over the moon when I signed my first professional contract at Schalke and played my first Bundesliga games. Everything else like playing for Real Madrid, winning the World Cup was just a bonus and unbelievable in the end. But the highlight in my career was of course winning the World Cup 2014 - I need not say more...

Q. You are only 34 years old, does it make you sad to retire so soon?

A. In the end I was sure that this was the right decision. Luckily, I didn't suffer a lot of injuries during most of my career and I was always fit. But the last months I felt really heavy and I couldn't help my team on the pitch as much as I once could. So, I told Basaksehir my thoughts and we found a solution very quickly.

Q. What is Özil going to do now? Would you like to stay involved in the world of football?

A. I don't know 100 percent yet what will happen in the next months and years. But for the moment, I will really just focus on my family in Turkey. I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters and I want to see my kids growing up ... my daughters are the two greatest gifts I have ever received in my life and I enjoy every second with them. For the moment there are no plans about becoming a manager or staying in the football business. I was part of the football business for almost 17 years now and most of the time I enjoyed the game a lot - I feel very thankful and blessed. But as everyone knows who followed my path, I don't like being in the limelight, giving interviews, being in the public eye. I will really enjoy have more calmness in my life now.

Q. What are you most proud of in your career?

A. Not the goals, assists, victories or titles, but instead getting the chance to spread awareness with my name and reach in topics that are important to me. To be able to give something back to people that are less privileged, especially in Africa and South America. You can be sure that this work won't stop after my career. This is what my mother taught me - and yeah, that's what I am really proud of.

Q. What do you remember about your first game as a professional with Schalke? Do you remember what the coach said to you before you took to the field?

A. I was very shy at that time - but nevertheless I already had a lot of self confidence in my skills. Mirko Slomka was my coach - he just told me that I should enjoy it and that's what I did. It was against Eintracht Frankfurt in 2006 in front of 60.000 fans and they all shouted my name. That was an incredible feeling in one of the nicest stadiums in Europe at that time. I had goosebumps on my whole body.

Q. Then came Werder Bremen, the World Cup in South Africa... and Madrid. Do you remember how you were signed? Who was the first person from Real Madrid to call you?

A. It was a decision between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. In the end it was not a decision about money. I visited Madrid and Barcelona at that time and the difference was Jose Mourinho- he gave me a VIP tour of Real Madrid. I saw the amazing stadium and all the trophies they'd won - it gave me goosebumps. The visit to Barcelona was less enthusiastic and the most disappointing thing was that Pep Guardiola didn't take the time to meet me. Before the trip I liked Barcelona's style of football a lot and I really could see myself joining them. So, Jose Mourinho was definitely the biggest part in my decision. After the visits, my decision was 100 percent clear: I want to become a Madridista...

Q. Werder Bremen were reluctant to let you leave. Were you afraid that the transfer might break down? What was it like during those days?

A. I remember that there were tough negotiations between the clubs. But in the end, Werder didn't want to lose me for free in the summer- that's why I always believed the transfer would happen. And I told Klaus Allofs, the sporting director of Werder Bremen, that I definitely wanted to leave because you never know when you might get a chance like this again in your life.

Q. And then you arrived at Real Madrid. What do you remember about the day of your presentation? Tell us some stories.

A. I was just 21-years-old at that time. I'd already played international football for Werder and also the 2010 World Cup for Germany but even so, I had never experienced being surrounded by so many photographers and journalists. It was not easy to handle - I was very nervous. Nevertheless, it was a very special day. There is no other club that presents new footballers like Real Madrid does. I realized - okay, wow, this is the next level. Or not just the next level - it was more than just one category above Werder Bremen.

Q. You made your debut in Madrid... and the Bernabéu fell in love with you. How do you explain your relationship with the Real Madrid fans?

A. It is really amazing - even ten years after leaving Madrid I still get so much support from Real Madrid fans on social media. This is really incredible. I think we really had very good three years together and the fans have seen that I have always given everything for this great club, but I never expected that they would still support me to this day. All I can say thank you.

Q. At Madrid, you were coached by Mourinho: What are your memories of Mou?

A. Everyone knows my special dressing room story with him (laughs). We had a great relationship. He always knew how to motivate me, how to make me a better player each day. He is just an amazing manager and I'm very proud that I was able to play for him.

Q. You were Cristiano Ronaldo's best partner on the pitch. Do you think you both formed one of the best attacking partnerships in the world?

A. It was so much fun to play together with Cristiano Ronaldo who is for me the best player of all time. We both had a very good understanding on the pitch - it was perfect.

Q. You were great friends with Sergio Ramos at Madrid. Are you still friends with him? Do you keep in touch?

A. For me, Sergio Ramos is the strongest character and best defender I have ever played with. At that time, he still was quite young, but he had already such a strong mentality - it was amazing. It was clear that sooner or later he would lead Real to more Champions League titles. He is a real boss. He was one of my best friends at that time. We had a lot of fun together and spent a lot of time together outside of training. He was key for me to adapt very quickly at Real Madrid - he helped me so much. Even more than ten years later we're still in touch - we text each other from time to time and of course I'm always following his career.

Q. What are your memories of the Clásicos against Barcelona and were they the most intense games you have ever played?

A. I think that while I was at Madrid, 'El Clasico' had a kind of a peak - we even had the UCL semifinals in 2011. It was Mou vs. Pep, Cristiano vs. Messi. Nowadays 'El Clasico' has lost a bit of intensity and excitement I would say. Beating Barcelona at that time was like having an orgasm, it was incredible. I would say our 5-0 defeat in La Liga in 2011 was one of my worst nightmares on the pitch in my career. I've really played a lot of derbies and high-class duels in my career, but yeah, I would say the 'Clasicos' really were the most special ones.

Q. You won LaLiga, the Copa del Rey... but you didn't win the Champions League. Is that the only thorn in your Madrid's side? Which one hurt more, the semi-final loss against Bayern or the semi-final against Borussia?

A. Wining the Champions League has always been one of my dreams, yes. But it is like it is. You can't have everything in your life. And I wouldn't exchange that for the World Cup title. I would say the semifinal against Dortmund hurt a lot - on one hand because I came from Schalke, the big rival of Borussia Dortmund (laughs) and on the other because the tie was so close. We lost the control in the 1st leg, but we were incredibly strong in the 2nd leg. In the end, just one goal was the difference.

Q. And then came your departure from Madrid.... How did you feel the night your departure was finalized? Was it a feeling of joy or sadness?

A. I really felt sad when I left Madrid at the airport. I had so much fun for three years at the club, in this city. But I didn't get a lot of game time anymore and after a conflict between Mr Perez, my father and my agent we needed to look for a new club. I even had some tears in my ears when I was sitting in the airplane that just departed from Madrid airport- at that moment, I realized it was over.

Q. If you could go back in time.... Would you change that decision?

A. At that time it felt right, because after the conflict between my father and Mr Perez, I was concerned I wouldn't get any game time if I didn't leave. So it's hard to say. But of course, I wish we could have handled that situation at that time in another way.

Q. Have you seen Florentino again since your departure? What would you say to him if you saw him again?

A. My departure was so long ago. I have no problem anymore with anyone - I'm sure we could talk completely normally to each other again if we were to see each other again.

Q. Wouldn't you like to receive a tribute at the new Bernabéu? Will you ever come to the stadium? Fans would love to see you again.

A. I was at the UCL final 2022 in Paris to support Real, but unfortunately it's not been possible to return to the Bernabeu in recent years because of my own schedule. I have no plans yet, but hopefully it will work in the near future. It would be a pleasure!

Q. And then Arsenal came along, how would you rate your time there?

A. The first years were very good for me. We've played Champions League - we had a great team with a lot of great characters and an amazing manager with Mon. Arsene Wenger. After he left the club, a lot of things changed for me. But I have no interest in adding fuel to the fire again. I am relaxed now and I wish the fans of the club really the best because they've always been very supportive towards me. I would be happy for the Arsenal fans if they could celebrate the Premier League title in the summer. They deserve it!

Q. What moment stands out for you at Arsenal? Your best moment was...

A. I think my best game for Arsenal was in 2018 against Leicester City - 3:1.

Q. How was your relationship with Wenger? Do you miss a coach like him not being in the dugout?

A. He was a true gentleman. Always very respectful. When he left the club, something was missing. We had a great relationship and I feel privileged that he was my manager at Arsenal.

Q. And while you were making history at Madrid and Arsenal, you became world champion. What is it like to play in and win a World Cup final?

A. There have been a lot of amazing victories in my career. But that was something else. During the celebrations it was very difficult to contemplate what had just happened. The night in Rio was the best night I've had in my football career. Even now, I still smile and get goosebumps if I think about that game. What a great memory.

Q. Is there anything you feel you failed to achieve with the German national team?

A. I don't want to add any further fuel to the fire. In the end the DFB and I had different opinions and that's why I left the national team after the World Cup in 2018. Some weeks ago, I had a very friendly meeting in Stuttgart with Jogi Löw. Between us everything is absolutely fine again. I've never had a personal problem with him and we had a very successful time together. I just needed some distance from everything around the national team after the World Cup in 2018.

Q. If you had to choose only one partner on the field, who would you choose?

A. The best individual player I would go for is Cristiano Ronaldo. For the best leader and character, I would choose Sergio Ramos. The best striker in front of goal: my boy Benzi!

Q. If you had to choose a coach... Who would you choose?

A. For me Jose Mourinho is the best manager of the last centuries. His tactical understanding is something else, but also the way he talks in the dressing room and how he always protects his team in the media. He really is world class.

Q. The best stadium you have ever played in... Why?

A. Sorry but I have to choose the Bernabeu, the Emirates and the Fenerbahce stadium - all three. (laughing)

Q. The best opponent you have played against... Why?

A. Messi! I think everyone knows why ...

Q. Tell us about all your social work. Rüdiger said the other day that your work is impressive?

A. This is just something my mother taught me - to always give something back. I work a lot with the organization BigShoe - together we've already been able to help over 1,000 kids in need around the world. They are doing amazing work and I'm very blessed to be able to help. I was very happy when I saw players like Toni Rüdiger and Bukayo Saka joining the organization.

Q. What would you change about football to make it better as a sport?

A. I come from the streets of Gelsenkirchen - we always played on amateur football fields. So, I would go for playing without offside, just as we always did when we were kids (laughs) That brings more fun and more goals.

Q. 254 games for Arsenal, 159 for Madrid, 108 for Werder Bremen, 39 for Schalke, 37 for Fenerbahçe? Which club has the most special place in your heart?

A. I think I have to answer this question in a personal way. In Germany I've always been a fan of Schalke 04 and in Turkey it's always been Fenerbahce. These have been my two childhood favorite clubs and it's a huge honor to have played for both.

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