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Sep 10, 2010

The Galacticos' new star

He started this summer as a World Cup wannabe with the bright lights peeping out at him from over the horizon, yet German starlet Mesut Ozil is now an established international preparing to play for Real Madrid in the Champions League.

• Play Champions League fantasy
• Fantasy top transfer tips
• Jose Mourinho interview

After stunning World Cup performances meant 21-year-old Ozil became one of the most prized assets in European football, the sense of stunned excitement that oozes from his every pore right now provides evidence that is he struggling to come to terms with his rapid rise to the top.

When managerial giant Jose Mourinho asks you to sign for the mighty Real Madrid, you know all your dreams have come true at once and Ozil is the first to admit he has to pinch himself when he turns up for training and rubs shoulders with some of the biggest names in world football.

"There cannot be a professional out there who wouldn't give everything to play in Real's all-white kit, so I'm in a privileged position," says Ozil, who was linked with a move to Manchester United before he quit Werder Bremen to sign up for Mourinho's latest project in the Spanish capital.

"At the age of 21, I am already playing for the best and most famous club in the world and have the honour of being in the same side as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria and the rest. I'm proud to have got this far in my career, but I also know it's only the beginning. I have to live up to the status I have acquired in the game now.

"When the offer came in to join Real Madrid, there is no decision to make. Let's be honest - you don't refuse this club. I was in no rush to leave Werder Bremen, but this is one club you say yes to. They are an institution, a club with a fantastic history, stadium and squad full of world-class players. The prospect of performing at the Bernabeu is so awesome you jump straight in.

"I don't need to be told I'm a long way from being complete in my football development, but I hope that joining Real Madrid will speed up the process. I have to keep learning and pushing myself. There will be no hiding place for me at Real and this is part of the challenge."

It's hardly surprising that Ozil sounds like a young kid who has won a licence to consume all he can in the world's biggest sweet shop, with his explosive leap from Germany's successful Under-21 team to the biggest stages of the world game enough to send a shiver of trepidation down the spine of most novice footballers.

Having played a mere 101 Bundesliga games for Schalke and Werder Bremen and just 17 full international games, Ozil's prodigious talents are still very much in a formative stage, but he doesn't appear to have any doubts that he can make his mark in the demanding spotlight of Madrid this season.

"The belief I have in my own ability is total," he says. "I have never been one to walk onto a football pitch with feelings of fear or hesitancy. A date of birth does not indicate whether a player can cope or not at the highest level and I know I've the ability to do myself justice here.

"My new coach, Mourinho, thinks so too and that's all I need to worry about. Now it's up to me to show I'm good enough to play for this famous team. The only way I can do that is on the pitch and, at this club, you have to win the Spanish title or Champions League to be a success. The stakes are high here."

Working with the inspirational Mourinho should give Ozil an opportunity to move his career up a couple of levels, with the most celebrated coach in the modern game famous for his inventive ideas, tactical mastery and enthusiasm.

He is also passionately protective of his players and does all he can to promote their careers, with the latest superstar in the making to fall into the hands of the two-time Champions League winning manager offering a positive early impression of the self-anointed 'Special One'.

"Mourinho shows astonishing attention to detail," Ozil says. "In preparing for a game, nothing is left to chance. It's easy to see how he has enjoyed so much success because he is a wonderful organiser, tactically very strong and makes players feel good about themselves.

"I noticed his charisma as soon as I met him - you can hardly miss it. Players relate to him and will run through a brick wall to please him. Motivation-wise, he is very clever and all of us at Real Madrid are looking forward to working with him this season."

Some observers have floated the theory that Ozil was signed as a replacement for the fading force that is Brazilian playmaker Kaka, but the German youngster insists he is hoping to play alongside the AC Milan star, rather than step into his injury-prone boots.

"I don't think I was bought to take over from Kaka," he says. "In fact, when he is fit again, I'm looking forward to playing alongside him. We have our similarities as attacking midfielders and our differences, but we can adjust to being in the same side. Having players like Kaka at this club can only be good for me because he has reached the level we all want to get to and these are still young days in my career.

"Things went well for me at the World Cup and most of the things I tried came off, but it will not be enough to be tricky and elegant at Real Madrid. As well as performing stylishly here, the bottom line is that you have to win. One doesn't go without the other and second place is not acceptable at this club."

Ozil's stylish midfield efforts should fit neatly into a Mourinho game plan that will try to fuse the traditional showbiz panache of Real Madrid with his own highly successful philosophies based around hard work and functional stability.

With Ozil's compatriot Sami Khedira being joined by Argentine World Cup star Angel Di Maria and Ricardo Carvalho among the club's summer buys, club president Florentino Perez may have to tolerate a watered-down version of fantasy football as Mourinho plots the club's route to a first Champions League for almost a decade.

If the season ends with Mourinho and Ozil dancing around Wembley Stadium celebrating Real Madrid's coronation as European champions for the tenth time, no one with a connection to this sporting giant will be complaining.

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