Big shoe to fill
The Premier League may have taken time to adjust to for Özil, but he rapidly adapted to life in the England. “I am really happy living in London – it has a real charm about it,” he says. “The city is really multicultural. There’s always something to do compared to, say, Germany where most places are shut on Sunday. In Madrid, everything was shut at midday because of the siesta, but in London everywhere is open 24/7.”
It makes sense that a German player with Turkish heritage whose religious faith is extremely important to him would be at home in a city as diverse as London. Özil credits his background as a part of the reason why he became an ambassador for The Big Shoe Initiative, an organisation that funds surgeries for children in need around the world.
In 2014, Özil donated a sizeable portion of his World Cup-winning earnings so that several Brazilian children could receive medical help. It’s easy to be cynical about footballers and charity donations, given the amount of cash high-profile athletes trouser. But for every footballer like Özil, who’s generous with his time and money, there’s plenty who aren’t.
“In my culture and upbringing, giving back to society is important,” he says. “I was consulted by a charity asking if I would be interested in setting up a foundation for young kids in need. It was really eye-opening seeing what the kids we were helping in Brazil had gone through. I was more than happy to do my part. We are not just focused on Brazil – we will also be doing charitable work around the world.”
He may have global ambitions – with Arsenal, with Germany, with his charity – but in person Özil cuts a modest, softly spoken figure. It’s a far cry from his social media presence, replete with amusingly mixed-up German-English hashtags, random emojis, dressing room selfies (they love a dressing room selfie at Arsenal) and pictures of his pet.
“I have one dog, his name is Balboa,” he says of the black pug, named for Sylvester Stallone’s boxing creation. “But I was frightened of dogs as a kid! I wanted to overcome my fear, so I decided the best way to do this would be to own a dog. I got it as a puppy, raised it and have overcome my fear. Now, I love dogs.”
It’s a stretch to say that Mesut Özil ever feared the Premier League, but the lesson is similar. Familiarity has helped him to adapt and he’s starting to love life here. Great news for Arsenal fans (and pooches). Bad news for Premier League defenders.