“In the eyes of [Reinhard] Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
Those were the chilling words uttered by Mesut Özil in a list of extensive statements published throughout the 22nd of July where he seemingly announced his retirement from international football due to the racist treatment he was receiving. The heartbreaking statements from the 29-year-old reveal a sombre tone, expressing how much damage and pain the playmaker has been forced to endure in the last few months due to the aforementioned racist remarks. Other factors include the controversy surrounding his pictures with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as Germany’s failures in the recent World Cup in Russia.
However, the way in which Özil has presented himself throughout, along with his courage and bravery to stand up to the Deutscher Fußballbund (DFB/German Football Federation) and those who subjected him to racism, deserves the utmost amount of respect. In this ‘era’ we live in, many people are afraid to speak out due to the fear of the repercussions that could follow. Looking at the few players (such as Antonio Rudiger and Jerome Boateng) who decided to broadcast a message of support and gratitude to the German midfielder supports this, as they treat his ‘retirement’ as any other rather than discuss the true, abhorrent, reasons behind his departure.
For someone so prominent and highly-regarded in the German national team, the fact that essentially all of Özil’s teammates and staff members haven’t publicly broadcasted messages of support is completely embarrassing. The 29-year-old isn’t quitting international football due to his age or injuries, it’s because of the bigoted and intolerant remarks that he has received from individuals as a result of his Turkish roots as well as his recent images with President Erdogan.
The fact that none of his teammates will publicly support him in his time of need is cowardice and highlights that they’re all too afraid of losing their spot in the German team as well as combatting the DFB. Nothing will ever change unless more people like Özil have the courage to speak up, and I wouldn’t be completely shocked if other players were hiding their own stories from the public eye.
Ever since Özil’s arrival at Arsenal Football Club in 2013, the Gelsenkirchen-born midfielder has always been painted as a scapegoat for one reason or another for both his club and country.
For Arsenal, many have idiotically slammed the midfielder for his apparent ‘laziness’ and ‘lack of defensive work’ while others – including myself, initially – criticised the German for seemingly skipping many games for no proper reason other than a few words by the club on a slight illness or injury. It wasn’t until his agent, Dr Erkut Sogut, came out to criticise Martin Keown earlier in the year where I – and many others – realised the mistakes that we made. As revealed by his agent, Özil played a majority of the season against medical advice and risked his place in Germany’s World Cup squad because he was so dedicated to Arsenal’s run in both the Premier League and Europa League. It’s situations like this where it’s obvious how much the midfielder loves the club, and I’ll happily admit my error in criticising him for this.
In regards to playing for his country, the biggest piece of criticism the 29-year-old has faced recently is from the foolish individuals that blame him for Germany’s underwhelming World Cup performances. Despite creating more chances per 90 minutes than any other player across the entire tournament, the playmaker was criticised for not tackling enough and being poor defensively.
For reasons that are still unknown to this day, the British and German media, certain fans, and others have consistently driven this thoughtless agenda against Özil. When these unknowledgeable opinions became a distant memory, it was his pictures with President Erdogan that sparked a new agenda.
Unbeknown to many, Özil’s meeting and photograph with President Erdogan back in May was not their first encounter. There have been many instances in the past where the playmaker has met with President Erdogan, yet this is one of the first times in which a footballer has received a consequential amount negative attention for meeting a world leader.
If I’m being honest, Özil does deserve some criticism for deciding to meet President Erdogan when he did. With Turkey on the brink of their general election, the 29-year-old’s meeting can – and was – interpreted as a political endorsement by some. Also, with the World Cup taking place a few weeks later, the timing of the meeting could not have been worse for Özil.
Nonetheless, at the same time, I do understand his position and desire to respect, “the highest office of [his] family’s country.” As the 29-year-old goes on to defend himself, his meetings have never been about, “an endorsement of any policies,” [Source: @M10_Official] but was actually about discussing football – like they always have done. The playmaker couldn’t reject or delay the invitation either, as he insinuates that it would have been disrespectful to the political office. Considering the fact that Özil has never faced as much backlash as this before, the midfielder likely saw no harm in meeting with President Erdogan this time around as he has never been ridiculed for this in the past.
What makes the entire situation worse is the contradicting standards in place within parts of the media. As Özil himself pointed out, Lothar Matthäus barely received any criticism for meeting with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. The German legend was invited to the Kremlin along with other football personalities like Rio Ferdinand, Alex Scott, and Peter Schmeichel in their roles as FIFA ambassadors. Since an agenda has been created against Özil for not declining President Erdogan’s invitation, why hasn’t one been produced since Matthäus, Ferdinand and others failed to reject their invitation to the Kremlin?
Furthermore, the sickening and disrespectful behaviour towards the 29-year-old as a result of his Turkish background is completely unjustified too. It says a lot about the terrible treatment that Özil has received since he feels as if he is not accepted into society due to his ‘different’ background and religion. Just like with him mentioning being referred to as ‘German-Turkish’, telling someone they are not properly affiliated with a country, like in Özil’s case, due to them having a ‘different’ background is a discourteous comment to make.
Also, without mentioning the expletive and racist remarks mentioned by the likes of Bernd Holzhauer and Werner Steer, the people that have played a part in Özil’s gruelling decision to quit the international team should take full blame and those in significant roles should be removed for their racist actions. Everything the 29-year-old has experienced in the last few months has resulted in him losing some love with his own country and losing the pride he once had when representing Die Mannschaft.
At the end of the day, I think many people will look back on the 22nd of July with such disgust as Germany lost something far greater than any single football game. Mesut Özil’s statements are an agonizing indication of how certain minorities are treated and highlight that the beautiful game as we know it is still far from achieving true equality. Should this really be the end for Özil and Germany, it’ll be such a distressing way for such a legendary player to conclude his international career. I admire the 29-year-old’s courage to speak so openly about everything that has happened in the last few months, and I’m certain hundreds upon thousands of people will agree with me as I say this… I stand with Mesut Özil.