Mesut Özil didn't have time to chat with reporters upon his return to team training on Monday -- the Werder Bremen press department desperately needed him to pose for photos in the new shirt for the 2010-11 season and sign autographs.
But supporters of the Bundesliga club would be well advised to resist investing in a new kit bearing the name of the German international. The 21-year-old is a player "on call," as local newspaper Weser Kurier puts it, and unlikely to see any action in a green jersey this season. A move to a bigger, more star-studded club beckons for the attacking midfielder, who was one of the World Cup's outstanding performers.
His Germany teammate Sami Khedira has already heeded the call. The 23-year-old signed a five-year deal with Real Madrid last week. VfB Stuttgart received an estimated $19 million as a transfer fee for the central midfielder, who had one year left on his contract with the Swabians. Stuttgart felt that it had no choice but to cash in on the player, because Khedira could have walked away as a free agent next summer.
Özil's situation is, on the face of it, very similar. He, too, is in in the final year of his deal. Talks about extending his contract broke down before the World Cup. Soccer logic dictates that Bremen follows Stuttgart's lead and take the money now. But it's not quite as simple as that.
Özil himself, for one, is on record saying that he's willing to see out the last year at Werder.
"The situation is clear for the next 12 months," Özil told Bild am Sonntag shortly before he joined his club mates at their preseason base in Austria. "I'm here now, that's what counts."
One is tempted to dismiss these sentiments as lip service, but they do, in fact, reflect a genuine concern that a transfer might not be in his best interest at the moment. Sources familiar with the situation told SI.com that talks with Real Madrid and Barcelona proved inconclusive, as neither club could convince Özil and his agent, Reza Fazeli, that he would be an automatic starter. Madrid has Kaka and Rafael van der Vaart playing in his position, and Barcelona boasts an array of small, attack-minded midfielders and a certain Lionel Messi.
Nike, which sponsors Özil, has reportedly also cautioned against a move that might see him spend most of the coming months sitting on the bench. The U.S.-based sports company want to make Özil the German face of its campaigns and would prefer him starring in the Bundesliga rather than playing a bit part in Spain.
There are other considerations, too. Özil, the son of Turkish immigrants, is still a very young player, on and off the pitch. Another year in the relative sedate surroundings of northern Germany would help him grow as a person and afford him more time to hone his game. It's sometimes overlooked that last season was not just marked by his breakthrough in the national team but also marred by inconsistent performances at the club level. Guaranteed playing time in a team built around him can only benefit his development.
Staying put is probably the more lucrative option for him in the medium-term, too. As a free agent, Özil could command a huge signing bonus on top of his wages next year. A sizable part of the $22 million Werder might make from his sale this year would thus go straight to him instead.
That, conversely, constitutes a very good reason for Werder to sell now. But the economic case for the deal isn't that clear-cut, either. Bremen has an important qualification tie for the Champions League in two weeks. Failure to reach the competition's group stage would cost it an estimated $27 million -- more than the proceeds from the Özil sale, in other words. But if Özil plays in those games, he will be barred from turning out in the Champions League for other teams, and therefore considerably less valuable on the market.
Sporting director Klaus Allofs is faced with a tough choice. But those who have sat in on his media briefings in Austria over the last few days are under the impression that he has already made it.
"If there are any offers [for Özil], we will think about them," Allofssaid Tuesday.
Contrast this statement with Allofs' categorical refusal to listen to advances for Bremen defender Per Mertesacker -- "He will stay with us, 100 percent" -- and you'll find that Werder appears quite willing to make the deal. A replacement for Özil seems on the way, too: Brazilian creative player Wesley (FC Santos), who is also wanted by Benfica, is close to signing a deal with Bremen, according to reports.
Still, Allofs cannot sell Özil against his wishes. That effectively rules out Barcelona and Real Madrid as potential buyers -- for the moment. A high-profile move to the Premier League seems the most likely outcome, provided one of the three clubs that have privately expressed an interest (Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United) can agree to terms with Özil and present a creditable scenario pertaining to his starting chances.
The future of one of Europe's brightest talents should be decided in the next few days. Fazeli's mobile phone better have a strong battery life.