I don’t usually involve myself in player comparison debates that now transcend football. The success of Twitter is essentially founded upon these discussions but even so, I find them to be tedious and ultimately irrelevant. You can almost guarantee that nobody is going to change their opinion of Emile Heskey because of what I have to say. It’s relevance is entirely eliminated by the fact that José Mourinho is certain to not suddenly rate Victor Moses because someone on Twitter won a debate and earned a few retweets. So, to completely contradict the beliefs I just listed above I am now involving myself in the recent Coutinho versus Özil feud.
The first thing to be made aware of is; despite a natural preference to playing the number 10 role, they are in fact vastly different players. Before comparing them, I will first analyse them individually to better unveil their differences and ultimately the superior Premier League player.
Let’s look at Mesut Özil first. The German arrived from Real Madrid for £42.5 million when it became clear that he was out of favour at the Spanish giants. His price tag provoked much debate and outrage and was not at all isolated to Arsenal supporters only. The players at the club however, were delighted – especially the German contingent.
Fears over his hefty fee were diminished to an extent with his hugely impressive debut featuring an assist for Olivier Giroud and his early performances were very exciting. Arsenals fans; as they so often do, hyped him up to the extent that he had immense expectations to fulfil.
Özil’s sphere of influence is most extensive when he is played down the middle in his favoured number 10 role. It is from here that he is best able to pull the strings and create openings for his team-mates. When the German moved from the Spanish capital, the remaining players at The Santiago Bernabéu were dismayed, especially Cristiano Ronaldo. The footballing icon said that he was disappointed because Özil was the man who best knew his moves in front of goal. It is this seemingly telepathic knowledge of his team-mates’ intentions that makes him stand out. Moving the German maverick out onto the wing is bordering on the sacrilegious. It is no wonder that he goes missing when he is shunted far from his ideal location, as it greatly restricts his ability to play.
Perhaps Özil’s biggest flaw is his tendency to appear absent in big games. It could really be down to any number of things. As I previously mentioned, in matches where he operates in a wide role, he loses a degree of effectiveness that he would otherwise possess in a central position. Another point of contention is that Arsenal’s £ 42.5 million man needs to be constantly supplied with the ball to make things happen, as he is not happy to run all over the park in search of it but would rather it be handed to him to allow his natural flair to be expressed.
That’s enough about Özil though. Now on to Philippe Coutinho – arguably one of the biggest bargain buys in world football at just £ 8.5 million. The diminutive Brazilian arrived from Inter Milan in January 2013 and caught the eye of many with his flashy and expansive style. His first goal came on his full debut during the 5-0 rout of Swansea after a brilliant ball supplied by Luis Suarez.
As with Özil, Coutinho is at his creative best behind the striker and much to the frustration of Liverpool fans, it seemed to take Brendan Rodgers several months to realize this. With the number 10 being shoved onto the left wing where he is still capable of doing a great job, his skill-set is nonetheless limited to a portion of the pitch rather than opening up the whole field for his exploits.
Initially, Coutinho’s shooting was erratic and his conversion rate was perhaps even worse than Mario Balotelli’s. Recently however, he has picked up the knack for scoring world class efforts from a considerable distance. It has seemed to come somewhat out of the blue but all of a sudden goalkeepers across England are genuinely worried about him in front of goal. This is even more impressive when you consider that scoring is not even his primary objective.
Since Luis Suarez left for the sunny isles of Spain and Daniel Sturridge has taken up temporary residence in a nursing home in Boston, Philippe Coutinho has become Liverpool’s most important player of the last year. Possibly the most impressive feature of the trickster’s persona is his mentality in big games and the way he takes on the opposition head first. Anybody watching last season’s tie between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield will vouch for the immense presence that the little man had on the pitch.
I would like to impress upon you the difficulty of separating the two of these players and distinguishing between them. They are both similar in that they both prefer to occupy the number 10 role but Coutinho has the edge where versatility is concerned, as he is not entirely limited on the flank, still capable of placing his renowned mark on proceedings. In fact, the Brazilian’s best goals have been scored when cutting in from the left and whipping in a shot with his favoured right foot.
Despite Mesut Özil having accomplished fabulous moments during his career such as playing for Los Blancos and winning the World Cup with Germany, he has never quite looked settled as a Premier League player. His form has been sporadic at best and given his price tag and talent, this is unacceptable. Therefore, adding my voice to the debate of who the superior player is, I would have to choose Coutinho as a result of his form in the last two seasons and rapidly establishing himself as a top Premier League performer on a consistent basis. That being said, I do still believe that all the criticism heaped upon Arsenal’s play-maker is far from deserved and he will come good given due time. What is less certain is whether The Emirates faithful will possess sufficient patience to eventually bask in this glory.
I wrote this article originally for The Boot Room. you can find it here