Mesut Özil has effectively announced his retirement from playing for Germany.
In a series of statements released through social media on Sunday, he did not hold back at criticism of him for his photograph with hard-line Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and performances at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
He reserved the worst of his fury for DFB President Reinhard Grindel for his treatment of the Arsenal player and handling of the affair, concluding he could no longer play for Germany “whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”
Player defends controversial photo
In the first statement, he defended the decision to meet Erdoğan, along with international team mate İlkay Gündoğan, in May. “I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” he said, and made clear that “the picture we took had no political intentions.” He added that “it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country” and that “not meeting with the President would be disrespecting the roots of my ancestors.”
He then moved on to criticising the German media for “repeatedly blaming my duel-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad,” saying that “certain German newspapers” had used his background and the Erdoğan photo to “further their political cause.”
He also accused them of “double standards” for not criticising Lothar Matthäus for a photo opportunity with Russian president Vladimir Putin during the World Cup, and referring to him as “German-Turkish” when players with Polish ancestry, like Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, are never called “Germany-Polish.” He lambasted some of his sponsors for withdrawing their support in the aftermath of the Erdoğan photo.
Grindel’s attitude slated by Özil
In his final statement, taking aim at the DFB and Grindel – who has previous been critical of multiculturalism in Germany – calling their “mistreatment” of him “arguably the issue that has frustrated me the most.”
Describing a meeting between the pair before the World Cup, where Özil tried to explain his “heritage, ancestry and therefore reasoning behind the photo,” Grindel was “more interested in speaking about his own political views and belittling my opinion.” He added, though, that they agreed it was best to concentrate on the tournament in Russia.
He then discusses Grindel’s public criticism of him in the aftermath of Germany’s exit from the World Cup and his insistence that the player should again justify his actions, “despite [Grindel] telling me it was over in Berlin.” Özil added that he believes that Grindel “wanted me out of the team after the picture,” although Joachim Löw and Oliver Bierhoff had “stood up” for him.
He also referred to attacks from the right-wing and others, including “hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media,” saying that “they all represent a Germany of the past.” He concluded that “the treatment I have received from the DFB and many other makes no longer want to wear the German national team shirt.”
Özil’s achievements must not be forgotten
Özil feels that “what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten,” so it is important to remember just what that has been in a career that has seen him earn 92 caps.
After helping his country to win the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championships, he was one of the biggest starts of the 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, when a youthful side under Löw dazzled on the way to the semi-finals. Afterwards, he became a vital element of their side with his silky passing skills, with the biggest achievement no doubt being the World Cup win in Brazil in 2014.
There have been times though – for both Germany and Arsenal, whom he joined from Real Madrid in 2013 – where his laid-back attitude on the field has led to criticism, especially when things aren’t going well for his side. This culminated in his scapegoating after Germany crashed out of the group stages of this summer’s World Cup, with the identity issue rising above the surface.
Whilst his choice of wording perhaps leave the door open for a return if the situation was to improve, especially with Löw appearing to still have his back, it seems unfathomable that Özil can represent Germany whilst Grindel remains in charge at the DFB.
For his part, the 56-year-old’s position is surely now untenable. If he were to stay, could other players of dual-heritage in the Germany set-up, such as Gündoğan or Sami Khedira from the World Cup squad, feel unable to represent the country? At a time when nationalist and far-right rhetoric are threatening to consume society, the implications are very worrying.
Quotes via Mesut Özil/Twitter.