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'Missing Ozil and Gundogan was my biggest mistake'

Arsenal star Mesut Ozil still causes sleepless nights for the CEO of Bayer Leverkusen.

Former Champions League runners-up Bayer Leverkusen are on the ascendancy again, back in Europe's elite competition and third in the Bundesliga - a climb since their ninth placed finish four years ago.

Despite selling Andre Schurrle this summer, their team is one packed with stars; Lars Bender, Stefan Kiessling, Emre Can, and Heung Min-Son to name a few.

They have boasted several top stars in seasons past, Lucio, Michael Ballack, and Dimitar Berbatov. So you would think their CEO Wolfgang Holzhauser is a proud man when it comes to talent spotting.

Not so. Holzhauser is a perfectionist who still beats himself up about the ones who got away.

He admits there are two players who he could have signed for small fees as teenagers, yet did not believe would mature into world class players.

These are Mesut Ozil now of Arsenal, and Ilkay Gundogan of last year's Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund.

Holzhauser told Bild: "These are obviously two cases in which I am annoyed that I have not had the courage."

He spoke of his decision to turn down Ozil at the time: "I said then: people, five and a half million for a 18-year-old boy who is already having trouble with his coach and would demand high salary? Let's wait first of all to see what will become of him."

Holzhauser is waiting no more, Ozil is Arsenal's £42.4 million record signing having switched from Real Madrid on deadline day. He simply couldn't afford him now.

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Ozil left Schalke where he had fallen out with his management and signed with Werder Bremen in early 2008 where he made his name and earned a place in Germany's first team at the 2010 World Cup.

The second haunting miss is Ilkay Gundogan. Holzhauser states that he backed off because he had already committed money for Andre Schurrle's transfer to the club, even though he could have afforded both: 

"We did not take him, ultimately, because Andre Schurrle was more expensive than first thought. Since then I had not the courage to once again take five and a half million for Gundogan."

He is in good company, even the best football coaches and managers miss glaring talent at a young age, buying teenage prodigies is a risky business, for every Cesc Fabregas there is an Arturo Lupoli.

Arsene Wenger himself famously missed out on chances he had to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Yaya Toure and Gareth Bale. 

But you can see why Holzhauser is annoyed. With supreme defensive midfielder Lars Bender at the club, the additions of Gundogan and Ozil would have made a near-unstoppable dream trio.

image: © ronmacphotos

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