D.C. United began a long-shot pursuit of acquiring Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil as a high-profile replacement for Wayne Rooney, hosting the German star’s agent in Washington on Wednesday, people close to the situation said.
Erkut Sögüt met with club executives Jason Levien and Sam Porter to discuss the possibility of Özil jumping to MLS from the Premier League as early as next year, according to those familiar with the talks, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The group lunched in the Navy Yard, toured Audi Field and was scheduled to visit the future site of United’s training center in Leesburg, Va. While there, the group watched a second-division match at Segra Field, the newly opened home to D.C.-owned Loudoun United.
United officials did not reply to messages seeking comment.
United had looked to make a move for Özil this winter, but one person said next summer is more realistic. Even then, the MLS organization would face an uphill battle to land a player who undoubtedly will draw interest from clubs throughout Europe.
Özil, who will turn 31 in October, is among the 10 highest-paid players in the world with a base salary of about $24 million. He has played with Arsenal since 2013 and is under contract until summer 2021.
However, with Özil soon entering the next phase of his career, United sees an opportunity to persuade him to play in MLS, which has attracted many European stars in their latter years, including Rooney, David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Rooney, 33, announced last week that he will return to England this winter, ending his D.C. stay after 1½ seasons to become a player-assistant coach for second-tier Derby County.
Özil, a longtime member of the German national team, might want to seek a fresh start far from London, where security threats forced him to miss Arsenal’s trip to Newcastle for Sunday’s league opener and have sidelined him indefinitely.
He and Bosnian teammate Sead Kolasinac were attacked last month by men carrying knives, and two men were arrested outside Özil’s home last week.
Özil has a business connection to Audi Field: He owns 39 Steps Coffee, which has been seeking to open a branch at the Southwest Washington stadium.
Italian forward Mario Balotelli, who is planning to join Italian club Brescia this month after playing for Olympique Marseille last season, had also appeared on United’s radar for a possible offseason acquisition.
The team also spoke with representatives for former Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge, a free agent with immediate availability, but fitness issues as well as hefty contract demands undermined the efforts. He seems likely to sign in Turkey this week.