As horror year continues, what now for Mesut Özil?

After the furore surrounding his decision to quit the national team, Mesut Özil sought solace at his club, Arsenal. But right now, he can't even get a game. With critics piling on, what's next for the divisive playmaker?

Though it was emphatically not the reason he stepped away from the Germany setup, the boost in freshness and fitness Mesut Özil would get from missing international breaks would surely be a happy sentence to close a sad chapter.

So when Unai Emery benched Özil for the fixture against Bournemouth on November 25 that followed an international break, eyebrows were raised. Emery explained his decision by suggesting Özil wasn't suited to a "very demanding match with physicality and intensity."

It was a familiar charge from an unfamiliar source. The 30-year-old has fair claim to be the most polarizing footballer in the world. Is he the floating, unselfish and incisive menace whose best qualities are those most underappreciated? Or the talented waster prone to hiding at key moments, shirking responsibility and allowing opponents to drift past him. The answer, as almost always in these matters, lies somewhere in the middle.

Phyiscality questioned

The reasonable early reaction to Emery's reasoning may have been to suggest the new boss prefers to choose horses for courses, but Bournemouth are far from the physical side his comments suggest. The south coast outfit, over-achieving this season, are an attractive, free-flowing side with an emphasis on attack. Though they run, chase and keep their shape, Eddie Howe's team are not the imposing, bullying types that have historically troubled the Gunners.

Such is Özil's fame, and so forceful are the opinions on him, his demotion caused a stir in Germany and in England: "If he is not considered robust enough to play against Bournemouth, can Özil really play against Tottenham?" asked a piece in the Guardian.

The answer was no. Officially, Özil is suffering with a bad back, sometimes reported as spasms, other times as aches. But the whispers are that Emery, a renowned disciplinarian in stark contrast to his predecessor Arsene Wenger, has become frustrated by his playmakers' fragility. He even admitted he didn't know whether Özil was even in the stadium for the North London derby against Tottenham last weekend. The German also didn't feature in the 2-2 draw against Manchester United on Wednesday.

With games against Huddersfield, a dead rubber against Qarabag and a League Cup quarterfinal against Tottenham coming up, the degree to which Özil features will likely reveal the degree to which his omission is injury-related. A start against Qarabag and less than that in the other two will surely reveal Emery's true feelings more than press conference soundbites.

Media outlets both home and abroad have been quicker to show their hands. 

"[Özil shows a lack of] ambition, bite, willingness to win, commitment, ability to suffer," read an article on Germany's Focus website.

Short of options

Mesut Özil's last game for Germany was in the World Cup

Predictably enough, England's tabloids pulled even fewer punches: "Ozil’s mood swings have not been missed," read a story in The Sun. "Arsenal’s players have moved on without him." The Daily Mail reported that Emery "wants to see a 'forceful reaction'" from his highest-paid player.

Another British national, The Independent wrote of "escalating tensions" between Emery and Özil and suggested the former Real Madrid man will be off to Inter Milan in January, one of a number of outlets reporting that rumor.  While the Serie A outfit have impressive pedigree, they haven't finished in the top 3 since 2010-11, a demonstration of how far Özil's stock has fallen.

A three-year deal with Arsenal reportedly worth €392,000 (€445,000) a week, eventually signed in January, severely limits his options and make a Bundesliga return incredibly unlikely. Only Bayern Munich could seriously countenance a financial package anywhere near that level. Given that Bayern President Uli Hoeness said Özil had been "playing sh*t for years" after the World Cup, that seems the remotest of possibilities.

Given his age, and recent form, it's hard to see any other suitors higher up the financial chain being tempted to meet Özil's demands. So if it isn't to be Inter, and if he wants to draw a line under 2018, it'll have to be Emery's demands that are met. 

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures


Özil joined the youth system of Bundesliga team Schalke in his hometown of Gelsenkirchen in 2005. His success on the international stage came early, winning the U21 European championship with Germany in 2009.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

Bremen and beyond

Özil's club career has not disappointed those who once described him as "the next big thing." After a falling out with Schalke over salary, Özil moved to Werder Bremen in 2008. His performances for Germany in 2010's World Cup gained the attention of Europe's best clubs. He moved to Real Madrid in 2010 and later moved to English team Arsenal for a (then) club record €50 million ($58.7 million).

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

Paragon of integration

In 2010, Özil won the Bambi — Germany's top media prize — for being a shining example of German integration. A third-generation German, he has always expressed pride in his Turkish roots, while emphasizing that his life has been devoted to Germany. An observant Muslim, he posted pictures of himself making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 2016.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

King of Hearts

Seen here meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel after defeating Turkey in 2012, the attacking midfielder has attracted legions of loyal fans for his quiet, unassuming personality and philanthropy. He would later be applauded for donating his 2014 World Cup winnings to Brazilian children in need of life-saving surgery and for meeting with Syrian refugee children in Jordan.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

World Champion

Özil started in all seven games of Germany's sucessful World Cup run in Brazil in 2014. Known as "Löw's playmaker," the midfielder has a close relationship with German national coach Joachim Löw. He ended the tournament leading in passes completed in the final third and was behind only Argentine superstar Lionel Messi in chances created.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

Erdogan controversy

Özil has met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan several times, most recently in May 2018, leading to a photo opportunity that many resoundingly condemned — from the political left for his apparent support of an authoritarian leader, and from the right for a perceived lack of loyalty to Germany.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

End of an era

Germany crashed out in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia — the national team's worst performance in decades. The president of the DFB, Reinhard Grindel, attempted to deflect criticism from himself by blaming Özil's Erodgan meeting for distracting the team. Grindel's reaction drew intense criticism from German politicians and soccer fans.

Mesut Özil: His career in pictures

'I am German when we win but an immigrant when we lose'

In an eviscerating statement on Twitter, Özil resigned from international play in July 2018, aged 29. "I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompentence," the footballer said of Grindel. Accusing the DFB president of racism, he thanked Löw and others in the German team for their support. In total, he played 92 matches for Germany, scored 23 goals, and registered 40 assists.