EXCLUSIVE: Mesut Ozil On How He Deals With Criticism And His Love For Arsenal

"There are always people out there who try to manipulate you, who don't want you to be successful. Just ignore them, give your all, believe in yourself and have fun. Then you'll reach your goals at the end of the day." If a quote had to sum up Mesut Ozil, then this would be it.

It hasn't been an easy ride for the German midfielder since joining Arsenal for £42.4 million in 2013, but Ozil has continued to prove doubters wrong during his time in North London, just like he's done throughout his journey in football.

From the 'monkey cages' of Gelsenkirchen, where he played against kids almost twice his age to playing in, what he describes as 'the strongest league' in world football, Mesut opens up about how a difficult childhood made him into a stronger person, both mentally and physically - and how he continues to strive for success and trophies.

What strikes me most throughout our interview is Ozil's elite mentality - something that may surprise those who have branded the player 'lazy' in the past.

From an early age Mesut has had to prove his worth. In the Bismarck district of Gelsenkirchen, a talented young footballer was greeted by many challenges. He speaks, with fond memories, about an important stage of his career.

"I come from Gelsenkirchen. It's where I was born, where I grew up and where I first kicked a ball together with my friends." Ozil tells SPORTbible.

"I enjoyed playing in the monkey cage, although the conditions were not the best. The playing surface wasn't outstanding, there were lots of stones. It was a cinder pitch. You had to be comfortable on the ball even at an early age. I learned that very quickly and very early because I was always playing against older guys. It was definitely a great time."

"If you start playing at seven or eight years against your older brothers or your cousins or friends of theirs, it means they will be twelve or thirteen and you are physically the weakest. At times, they got stuck in and I had to find ways of holding my ground despite a body that was less robust then - It certainly helped me in my career."

Image: PA
Image: PA
Image: PA
Image: PA

Ozil has been hit with a huge amount of criticism, especially during his time in the Premier League and at international level, but he continues to bounce back.

He grew up with pressure so this isn't anything new to him. Even the man himself admits that some people don't like him, but 'The Raven' - a nickname he was given at former side Schalke for his vision - has ways of dealing with those obstacles.

"I'm mentally strong because I grew up with pressure. I've had a difficult childhood, as I've always had to be the best and prove myself over and over again. This made me a lot stronger at a young age." he says.

"There are some people now who don't like me. You have to accept that, but you don't have to listen to them. The most important thing for me have always been the people around me who will tell the truth, the same goes for the coach.

"You have to enjoy what you're doing. I loved football as a small boy and I still love it today. It's what gives me the most fun.

"There are always people out there who try to manipulate you, who don't want you to be successful. Just ignore them, give your all, believe in yourself and have fun. The you'll reach your goals at the end of the day."

Ozil has certainly reached his goals. At the age of 22 he made his breakthrough at the 2010 World Cup and has since made 92 appearances for his country

The German midfielder went on to lift the World Cup trophy in 2014, an achievement he still speaks about to this day. With a glint in his eye, he speaks about his achievements - and a burning hunger for more.

"When you look back on the successes you've had, you always want more. You always want to be successful at what you do. There's one thing you should not forget and that's being proud of yourself and what you have achieved."

"I've won the World Cup and there's no bigger prize in football. I'm very, very proud of that. I've won a few titles in my career. Whether it was with Bremen, Real or Arsenal. That's something I'm proud of. Nobody can take those trophies away from me."

"When I look back on all those successes, they push you forward. You become hungrier, you want to have even more success.

"There are still a few years ahead of me, and I hope there will be a few more titles "

Image: PA
Image: PA

The 30-year-old isn't getting any younger, but his tough mental character shines through.

Mesut admits that the cold, early morning training sessions can be a killer, but football takes over and the game he fell in love with all those years ago - in the 'monkey cages' of Gelsenkirchen - gives him happiness like no other.

"At the end of the day, if you want to keep playing in the best leagues for a longer period of time, you primarily have to take care of your body. You have to work hard and know your body well, sleep a lot - and nutrition is important as well. These are all things you have to take into account." he admits.

"I'm not the youngest anymore, 30 years, and I want to keep playing for as many years as possible, so you have to take care of your body."

"Sometimes there are days when you train early in the morning, it's cold and you're not in the best of moods. But as soon as you see the ball, you rejoice and you're happy to be playing again. As I said, this is what I like best. I enjoy being on the pitch."

So, can Arsenal challenge for the Premier League title this season?
Unai Emery's side have started well, and a win against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday afternoon will lift them into the top four.

They have arguably their strongest side in years, and Ozil is clearly hopeful. He is proud to be allowed to wear the colours.

"The Premier League is the strongest league in the world. It's very close, many teams are competitive at the top. The table is quite simply interesting. It's not like in the other leagues.

"You can definitely improve here and I enjoy being able to play for Arsenal. I'm proud to be allowed to wear this shirt."

<span class="spellchecker-word-highlight" "="">Ozil wears the Predator <span class="spellchecker-word-highlight" "="">19+ football boots, available from adidas.co.uk/football

Jack Kenmare

Jack Kenmare is a writer at SPORTbible. He's interviewed some huge names in the world of sport, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pele, Carles Puyol and Tim Henman. He dabbles in all things sport, but football is his biggest passion. He was once hit in the head by a wayward strike from Nicky Butt and lived to tell the tale.

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