Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil has revealed that playing on imperfect pitches and against boys much older than him helped develop his technique. The German is lauded as one of the best playmakers in the world and he insists that had he been brought up in ideal circumstances he may have never reached the level he is at today.
The World Cup winner has 18 assists to his name in the league and is only two away from the Premier League record held by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry. However, the Gunners' lack of form since the turn of the year has had a massive impact on his performance of late and the midfielder will be hoping to get back on the charts after a relatively quiet few months by his standards. He has been linked with a move out of the Emirates in the summer but he was quick to squash any such rumours.
Ozil revealed that he used to practice with anything that he could set his eyes on, including chewing gums and pieces of tape lying on the pitch. He played with basketballs, tennis balls and other rounded objects which were different from a football but he was most indebted to playing on the pitches in Gelsenkirchen which were not up to the mark.
"When I was younger, if I saw something lying around, I would try to juggle with it," he told Arsenal Magazine. "I would always go on vacation with my friends and we would always play games like two touch using a tennis ball, or play with a basketball, which is heavier than a normal ball.
"[I didn't just play] with chewing gum or tennis balls, sometimes with basketballs or medicine balls too - even ones that are 5kg, though that is very difficult. Sometimes on the pitch if the game has finished and I see some tape on the floor, I'll take it and play with that too.
"What helped me before was playing against older people. I would play against my brother and his friends and they were always five or six years older than me. When I was 11, they were already 17 or 18. It was tough to play against them and the pitch I grew up playing on wasn't that nice, it always had stones on it.
"You had to be really concentrated when you got the ball. I think that kind of stuff helped me more. Juggling with tennis balls is good but I think what helped my technique was the pitch I grew up on in Gelsenkirchen."