When you think of albatross contracts in the realm of sports, a couple names instantly come to mind. Off the top of my head: Gilbert Arenas, Timofey Mozgov, Chandler Parsons, Albert Haynesworth, and Albert Pujols. And as of 2019, you can add Arsenal’s Mesut Özil to that list.
Those names above instantly ring of wasted dollars. There are many reasons for this, of course; wasted talent or potential (Haynesworth), personal reasons (Arenas), bodies just relentlessly breaking down (Parsons), or just front office ineptitude (Mozgov), there are many reasons for a once promising contract turning into a complete write-off.
But there is a special group of albatross contracts that seemed like a no-brainer at the time, they seemed to fit the massive achievements that the player had already garnered, and the extra couple million was deemed worth it in order to keep a player of that stature around and associated with your team like (Pujols, Özil). Pujols and Özil are in a special class of their own, and in fact, Özil definitely has Albert beat. Both have two years remaining on their contracts, and are owed well over $30 million, and both have (rightfully) no intention of leaving any money on the table.
Pujols, if you don’t follow baseball, is a walking god. Over an 18 year career that is grinding excruciatingly to a close, he has 3,100 hits, 646 home runs, and just over 2,000 RBI’s. Those are first-ballot Hall of Fame numbers, despite the fact that Pujols is a dessicated shell of the player he once was at this point.
Özil is a World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, and has more created chances in top-5 leagues than any player since his debut for Werder Bremen at 17 years old. Özil has recorded more than 1,000 created chances in that time, becoming the first player amongst the top-five leagues in Europe to reach the one thousand mark, according to 90min.
Both of these players also have another thing in common. Their massive contracts are stunting their respective teams’ ability to be able to get better as their skills decline. Ozil’s Arsenal contract has, in a matter of months, transformed from a contract that seemed the perfect counterpoint to the uncertainty of the futures of Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey, and Alexis Sanchez, which at the time led many fans to rightfully panic. Özil was the rock in the middle of all those turbulent waters, and it was good.
All key cogs in the North London club’s machine were in limbo, and in the midst of the chaos, Özil pledged his future with Arsenal, inserting himself into the savior role, even if his contract was borderline obscene due to the unbelievable leverage that Özil and his agent had on their side (it also didn’t hurt to be negotiating with Ivan Gazidis either, but that is a whole other issue).
The amount of the contract was immediately overlooked due to the rush of emotional relief that flooded Arsenal fans’ brains once the announcement was made. Arsenal’s talismanic creator was coming back, and Gooners didn’t care about anything else. We are officially 18 or so months removed from that day, and it honestly seems like another lifetime. Since then, Özil has seemed to have mistaken his new bumper deal for his retirement pension. He has looked nothing like the playmaker that was taking the Premier League by storm earlier this decade.
Two assists in the Premier League this past season was all the German playmaker could muster. To be fair, he was largely at odds with Unai Emery, who (at first) was reluctant to shoehorn the number 10 into his more hard working set up. Yet when you are bringing in $350,000 a week, excuses are hard to lean on. And that was exactly what happened.
Arsenal fans’ patience ultimately came to a screeching halt during the Europa League Final against Chelsea. Where he was ultimately subbed off for a teenager, Joe Willock, who provided more impact on the game in the 20 minutes he was on compared to the 70 that Özil was given.
Özil’s walk to the sideline was the last straw. As the game was getting away from Arsenal, its most popular and integral player seemed to not care, and once he got to the bench he showed his frustration towards the substitution, and a lot of Arsenal fans howled their frustration at Özil on social media for days after the final.
A lot of this pent-up fan frustration was for past performances, sure. Another part of it was the realization that Özil and his big contract were going to have to move on in order for the club to do the same, and that the big contract means he probably wouldn’t be moving on.
The realization that many of the hopes and dreams that were, albeit unfairly at times, put on Özil’s shoulders would come crashing down, and Arsenal fans and the club itself would have to start from scratch, and adapt to the Europa League for another long and painful year, set in before the game was even over, and Özil was (and is) the target of much of the ire of a frustrated, angry fan base.
Arsenal have become a Europa League team over the last few years, after almost two decades of being a Champions League institution, and Mesut Özil is not a Europa League player. His contract is not one that Europa League clubs can afford. If Arsenal want to get back to where their fans expect them to be, then cutting the dead weight of such a massive contract should be the first thing on the summer’s long list of front office work tasks.
The thing is though, nobody is willing to take Özil’s monstrous contract - and why would they? Özil turns 31 this fall, he’s had an uninspiring last season or two, and no club above Arsenal are looking for an outdated attacker in what baseball analysts generously refer to as his “decline phase”.
That’s why Özil’s albatross contract is one that is up there with, if they can be called this, the greats. Like the teams owning the contracts of all the names mentioned above, there is really only so much Arsenal can do. There is seemingly no end in sight, and the only way for Arsenal to get better is either to bite the financial bullet and pay Özil to leave (which doesn’t help them from a roster standpoint, as they’re still on the hook for his salary), or to pray and hope that Özil shows up to preseason training a new man, ready to work with Emery and prove everyone wrong.
Even if he just returns to being the guy from a couple seasons ago, that works too. Ozil’s contract is a huge roadblock for Arsenal if they want to return to who they once were, and it’s one that they are going to have to run right over, or wait until it’s removed. There is no going around this issue, and it seems like this saga isn’t going to end any time soon. Buckle up.