Mesut Ozil's goal for Arsenal away to Ludogorets in October was stunning, immediately bracketed alongside Dennis Bergkamp's goal away to Newcastle United in 2002 in the realms of great individual goals scored by Arsenal creators. It shared with it a sense of surprise: this was something if not quite unique then at least very unusual. It was a moment you had to look at again to be absolutely sure what had happened and as such it fell into the category of goals that defy ready categorisation.
It was unusual too in that it was Ozil who scored it. Goals have come more readily this season but he is still a player who tends to create rather than score. His Arsenal career to date has brought 18 goals and 34 assists, plus countless pre-assists or passes that led to the move that led to the goal.
And yet in another way it was entirely characteristic. It was a goal born of a remarkable calm, an ability to look at a situation clinically and work out with extraordinary speed what the best course of action is in a given situation. From the flick over the goalkeeper to the two feints to send defenders crashing to the ground, there was no panic, just subtle movement conceived and executed perfectly. As the former Ajax team-manager David Endt once said of Bergkamp: "The seconds of the greats last longer than those of normal people."
There are similarities between Ozil and Bergkamp, of course, but the player of the recent past he most closely resembles is probably Juan Roman Riquelme. Real Madrid's Isco, perhaps, falls into a similar category and is one of the next best emerging players in this position.
Like Riquelme, Ozil lacks pace. Like Riquelme, there have been parts of his career when he has been distrusted. Louis van Gaal infamously snubbed Riquelme at Barcelona when he presented him with a shirt for his infant son, with the message he would have more need of it than his father. Jose Mourinho wasn't nearly as harsh on Ozil at Real Madrid, but he did tend to push him out to the flanks in major games. And like Riquelme, he feels at times like a beautiful relic of a past age, somebody who can only exist in a very specific environment. What Boca was to Riquelme, perhaps, Arsenal is to Ozil. He can only really function in a team that can accommodate a player of his type: there would be no place for him, for instance, in a set-up based on constant pressing like, say, Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.
Positionally, Ozil is perhaps best described as an enganche. The term is Argentinian and literally means "hook", the player who links together the midfield and attack. It came to popularity after the 1958 World Cup as Argentina, having been hammered 6-1 by Czechoslovakia, went through one of its occasional periods of soul-searching. Almost overnight, the old bohemian ways - when skill was everything and training less so - became outdated.
The formation that had been almost a default, the W-M or 3-2-2-3, was modified. One of the two deep-lying midfielders dropped back to create a back four, with one of the inside forwards, usually the right-sided one, the number 8, falling back into a shuttling role in a 4-3-3. The number 10, the inside-left, then had huge creative responsibility.
Gradually, one of the wingers retreated as well, leaving a 4-3-1-2. It's that 1 who is important, the sole playmaker, the linking player, the enganche. More recently, the prevalence of 4-2-3-1 has meant a new prominence for the enganche, a halfway house between the Argentinian-style asymmetric 4-3-3 and the 4-3-1-2, playing with two midfielders behind him and wingers who are more aware of their defensive responsibilities than those of the seventies.
An enganche is often quite static, his role is to supply passes to those running in front of him, so pace is far from essential (Ozil's Football Manager rating is 13). He will often receive the ball with his back to goal, frequently in tight areas, so a good first touch is essential (Ozil's is 19), as is technique (19) and an understanding of positioning when out of possession – Ozil's off the ball rating is also 19. His job is as a creator, so it's vital he has imagination and an understanding of where players and spaces are. Again Ozil scores highly in that regard with vision of 20 and flair of 19. Perhaps his most defining characteristic though, is his composure of 20, the iciness of execution that perhaps most closely ties him to Bergkamp.
Isco - who went to Madrid in the same summer Ozil departed as something of a replacement - has many of the same characteristics. He is fractionally slower than Ozil (pace of 12), but he scores highly in many of the same categories as well; where he falls down a little is in his off the ball work – a Football Manager rating of just 13 – and his composure of 15. Perhaps the most significant similarity, though, is that at Real Madrid, he also has more assists than goals: 24 to 17.
He doesn't seem an obvious fit for a Mauricio Pochettino side, but the Arsenal link is intriguing. Arsene Wenger has a track record of recruiting top creative midfield talent. Isco knows only too well how difficult it can be to replace Ozil, having essentially done so at the Bernabeu, only for first Carlo Ancelotti and now Zinedine Zidane (not forgetting a little bit of Rafa Benitez in between) to opt for systems without an enganche, limiting his ability to match Ozil. At the same time, that's turned him into a more all-round player than the German, operating mostly from the left side of midfield.
You could conceive - and Arsenal fans might dream - of a line-up in which the two both start, or Isco could end up at a club like Juventus, who have long been linked with him and would likely afford him the chance to play in his preferred position, giving him the platform to match or even surpass the man he replaced at Madrid, becoming the next great enganche.