[PORTRAIT] Germany's exciting 21-year-old playmaker plays down the comparison. He's also left-footed, dark-haired and can trick his way past defenders. But
Mesut Ozil says of his Messi nickname, "I believe it's an abbreviation of Mesut and has nothing to do with Lionel Messi."
Ozil and Messi face off when Germany and Argentina meet in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The young German team has gotten this far thanks much to Ozil, who clinched the team’s passage to the second round with the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Ghana.
Ozil set up goals in the 4-0 rout of Australia and the 4-1 over England. Even when Germany fell, 1-0, to Serbia in its second group game, Ozil was hailed for covering so much of the field after forward Miroslav Klose was red-carded.
After Ozil – half midfielder, half forward -- helped Germany win the U-21 European Championship, Coach Horst Hrubesch called him a once-in-a-century talent.
Germany’s World Cup coach Joachim Loew says, “Ozil is a gift for German soccer. … With him, the game doesn’t stop, it keeps its rhythm.”
The German press hails the 154-pound Ozil as embodying the “new style” of the German team: modern, interesting and more talented than many of its predecessors, who relied so much on power and grit.
Ozil, whose grandfather emigrated from Turkey four decades ago, is also the leader of what the Germans have dubbed their “Multikultikickers.”
“The new Germany at this World Cup is attack-minded, very young and multi-ethnic,” wrote Spiegel magazine. “Eleven of the 23 players are mix-players, who have foreign roots.”
Ozil was courted by Turkey, whose Dutch coach Guus Hiddink said, “It's a pity that Ozil chose the wrong passport. He is a modern player I could use in my team."
But for Ozil, who grew up speaking mostly Turkish at home because his mother’s German wasn't so good – “Sometimes sentences came out half Turkish, half German,” he said – it was not much of a choice.
“It was never an issue,” said Ozil. “I grew up here [in Germany] and always played youth ball for Germany.”
In its profile of Ozil, Germany’s Kicker magazine sought out the opinions of the nation’s most stylish playmakers of yesteryear. Wolfgang Overath said, “He’s a brilliant player who can do anything on the ball.” Guenter Netzer said it’s laughable to already call Ozil Germany’s Messi. Kicker wrote that Messi is a magician and Ozil is a magician’s apprentice.
On Saturday, the world can compare the two.