In the last years, the US has looked to boost the visibility of its MLS league. Since 2018, the country’s rollout of sportsbooks has led to more and more sports fans showing interest in following and betting on new leagues. Abroad, offers like the deals listed on oddschecker often focus on popular sports like football, but the US has historically focused on other leagues like the NFL or NBA.
However, the MLS may have just nabbed its next big European player. In mid-April, midfielder Mesut Özil was reportedly being optioned by the US’s MLS Los Angeles FC for a potential new contract in the summer transfer window. The German-born player joined the Turkish club Fenerbahçe last year, but is already slated to move on—and possibly even move West to the US.
The news comes at an interesting time for the MLS. Despite being considered a retirement league for top players from Europe and South America, the league has since seen improvement and expansion. Though it’s still not commanding big names at the prime of their career, Özil’s move to LA FC would mark yet another quality appearance from an EU star.
As a former star of Real Madrid and Arsenal, Özil will be a hot topic for analysts covering the MLS—and might even boost LA FC’s odds in the 2022-23 season and draw in big crowds. However, though Özil has been excluded from Fenerbahçe’s crowd, it’s still uncertain if he’s headed for the MLS.
Frozen Out of Fenerbahçe
Özil’s move from Arsenal to Fenerbahçe came after a low point with the club. For Özil fans, the move to the Turkish league meant he’d see more playing time. For local football fans, the move was also hyped because of the player’s Turkish ancestry. In fact, Fenerbahçe had been looking to sign the midfielder for years—and Özil said he’d wear the jersey with pride.
Last January, Özil signed a three-and-a-half-year contract with the Turkish side, worth €5 million per year. Just over one year later and in his second season, Özil is leaving the club for undetermined reasons. Though he faced an ankle injury that left him on the sidelines this spring, there was little indicator that the stars weren’t aligning for Özil with Fenerbahçe.
On 24 March, the club announced that Özil would be excluded from the squad. Prior to signing with Fenerbahçe in 2021, Özil had spoken with MLS side DC United. Now, it’s likely he’s back in talks with at least one MLS side—but some are still hung up on Özil’s ongoing struggle to gel with his team.
Stuck on Repeat?
Some rumors hint that Özil was cut from Fenerbahçe for ongoing verbal altercations with team management—and they aren’t the first rumblings of such issues. In late 2021, Fenerbahçe president, Ali Koc, criticized Özil for wanting more playing time while prioritizing his commercial interests above training.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back in 2013, Özil was at the top of his career. After a three-year stint with Real Madrid, he was traded to Arsenal for €50.7 million and was expected to take Arsenal back onto the map. But over the next few years, Özil went from the club’s glimmer of hope to one of its most divisive characters.
A Troubled Departure from Arsenal
At first, he lived up to the promise of his jaw-dropping salary—especially under prestigious coach Arsène Wenger in the mid-2010s. But soon, it fell apart as Arsenal made even more big-money moves. This complicated the team’s ability to retain Özil from a financial perspective, and so Özil seemed to take a step back.
He stopped attending club days to fulfill his commercial responsibilities to the club, which only worsened negotiations as Arsenal ramped up to renew Özil’s contract in 2018. Back and forth related to Özil’s contract and his place as a leader on the team eventually led to Özil being placed back at the center of the Gunners’ scheme—but in reality, new management under Unai Emery and then Mikel Arteta saw Özil shunned.
Until Özil was left off Fenerbahçe’s squad, there was some uncertainty about how much the midfielder’s attitude was to blame. The only question remaining now is whether a move to the MLS would fix Özil’s mounting problems.
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