Alvaro Arbeloa has said he first thought it was a joke when Mesut Ozil said he was leaving, amid a mounting backlash among fans and media against Real Madrid's decision to sell the Germany international to Arsenal for £42.5 million on Monday.
While Gunners players including Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott have welcomed their new team-mate, the mood back at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is more downbeat.
Even Gareth Bale’s €100 million arrival at Madrid from Tottenham has been overshadowed in many quarters by a feeling of dismay at the exit of a player who many fans and pundits considered the most naturally talented at the club.
Sergio Ramos and Sami Khedira have been among those to voice their sadness at their friend’s departure, while Arbeloa told reporters as he joined up with the Spain squad ahead Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Helsinki that he had not believed the news when he was first told.
"[Ozil] said goodbye on Sunday but I thought it was a joke," Arbeloa said. "There is nobody like him. It will be tough for the fans because they loved him."
Madrid’s new young star Isco, whose impressive start at the Bernabeu is among the proposed reasons why president Florentino Perez and manager Carlo Ancelotti let Ozil leave, said the move had been a shock.
"The truth is I was very surprised, and even more after he said last week he was going to stay," Isco said. "We all know Ozil he has a lot of quality and is a player capable of changing a game."
Cristiano Ronaldo has apparently also told friends at Portugal’s training camp this week that he is "angry" at Ozil’s departure and the move "is really bad news for me as he was the player who knew best my movements in front of goal".
AS puts the departing hero, not new galactico Bale, on its cover on Wednesday morning, with the headline ‘Storm over Ozil’. Inside, editor Alfredo Relano, now a vocal critic of Perez, wrote that Madrid should have accepted Manchester United's €40 million bid for Sami Khedira instead, as Ozil is a much better, more stylish player - "The decision was to sell the violin, and keep the drum," lamented Relano.
An online poll conducted by the Madrid-supporting paper on Tuesday found only 33.7% of 68,000 respondents backing the idea of selling Ozil.
Marca on Wednesday ran a ‘top secret’ column blaming Ozil’s father Mustafa for turning him against Madrid . Ozil senior, who acts as his son’s agent, had been asking Perez for a pay-rise all summer, but got no response. Arsenal have agreed to an €8 million annual salary, a big increase from the €5 million per year contract at Madrid.
Marca says it spoke with an unnamed person, who has been close to Ozil for years, who thinks his friend will soon regret having left the Bernabeu.
"[Mesut] loved Real Madrid," the anonymous friend is quoted as saying [no link as behind paywall at moment]. "He still does not know what he has done. In three weeks he will realise the huge error he has committed."