For the majority of their existence, The Wombles were the finest thing to come out of deepest Bulgaria. That is until Mesut Ozil picked up the ball in the dying minutes of a Champions League tie in November 2016.
Ozil was the very definition of a fantasy footballer at his peak, able to spot gaps thinner than a supermodel’s waist to thread passes towards a variety of grateful strikers.
He was also a throwback to the era of 90s playmakers; completely uninterested in defending, prepared to impersonate a teapot on some rainsoaked pitch while waiting for the ball to enter his orbit, but secure in the knowledge that he could determine the match result with a swish of his foot.
And all this came to pass in the finest goal of his distinguished 17-year career, as Arsenal desperately strove to avoid a humiliating setback against Ludogorets.
The Bulgarian champions scored two early goals, as the entire European continent chortled and the away contingent mentally brainstormed their homemade ‘Wenger Out’ banners.
But goals from Granit Xhaka, assisted by an Ozil cross, and Olivier Giroud drew the Gunners level before half-time.
Instead, the match developed into a tense, uneasy stalemate as watching viewers settled into their armchairs with their popcorn and awaited the inevitable AFTV car crash.
Ozil wore a mildly horrified expression throughout, like a time traveller that’s arrived in 1900 only to discover there’s no inside toilet and the only form of transport is a visibly decaying horse.
But, in this instance, a long pass from Mohammed Elneny was the prelude to genius. Catching the Ludogorets’ defence napping on guard duty, Ozil sprung the offside trap and juggled the ball between his feet as he raced through on goal.
Keeper Milan Borjan sprinted out of his area to curtail the danger, but was instantly retired by the daintest of Ozil flicks.
In a forlorn attempt to rescue their goalkeeper, two Ludogorets defenders had managed to position themselves between Ozil and the goal, but could be seen visibily trembling with apprehension at the potential dignity-shredding they were about to endure.
Their instincts were right. Possessing the coolness of a freezer-stored cucumber, Ozil waited for one opponent to commit before sitting the remaining obstacle between him and immortality on his arse.
Both Ludogoret puppets had been taken out of the game, leaving the World Cup winner free to dot the I’s and cross the T’s by tapping the ball into an empty net.
Never forget this brilliant goal from Mesut Ozil 😮💨
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 22, 2023
“To me it didn’t look like the optimal solution, but when the ball was in the net I thought it was,” said an astonished Arsene Wenger after the game.
“The great players make the right decisions in the game situations they face. They always make the optimal solution.
“You wanted him to take maybe his chance earlier, but at the end he had enough skill to prove that he was right.”
That was Ozil in a nutshell; despite a number of detractors who were reduced to a frothing mess at his laidbackness, the Germany international always possessed the magic in his feet to shut them up.
Some will also argue that Ozil never fully fulfilled his potential and this argument has more merit; his time at the very peak was all too short and was probably in gentle decline by the time of his Ludogorets madness.
But Ozil deserves to be remembered as one of the leading talents of his generation. And Exhibit A in our argument will forever be his unreal solo winner in deepest Bulgaria.
By Michael Lee