By Andrew Warshaw
July 23 – In a remarkable move that has spilled over into the political arena, Arsenal’s German international midfielder Mesut Ozil has quit international football at the age of just 29 claiming he can no longer take the “racism and disrespect” he says he has faced over his Turkish roots.
Ozil has been the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons since May when he and fellow German international Ilkay Gundogan, who also has Turkish origins, were photographed posing with controversial Turkish president Recep Erdogan during a state visit in London right in the middle a re-election campaign.
While Gundogan quickly apologised for any misunderstanding saying he “honours German values 100%” and never intended to make a political statement, Ozil chose to remain silent and went on to have a dreadfully poor World Cup as did his team.
Now, he says, he is quitting wearing the national team jersey after receiving hate mail and threats.
“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” the German-born Ozil, who feels he has been unfairly singled out, charged in a statement released in English.
Ozil, who won 92 caps, has been voted the national team’s player of the year five times since 2011 by fans but says his recent treatment made him “no longer want to wear the German national team shirt”.
He said he did not feel accepted in German society despite paying taxes and being a World Cup winner in 2014.
“It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level while I have this feeling of racism and disrespect.”
Germany, which has a huge Turkish immigrant population, has criticised Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent but Ozil said he would have been “disrespecting his ancestors’ roots” had he not posed for photographs with the Turkish president.
“It wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
Ozil’s move inevitably sparked a fierce debate in Germany and beyond, with politicians and fans appearing to show support and opposition in equal measure.
Stephan Mayer, state secretary in the German Interior Ministry, told BBC Radio that Ozil was “naive” for thinking the picture was not political given it was just weeks before the Turkish election.
Not surprisingly Erdogan’s government heaped praise on Ozil with the country’s sports minister, Mehmet Kasapoglu, saying the player had taken an “honourable stance”.
Part of Ozil’s outburst was targeted at Reinhard Grindel, president of the German FA (DFB) and a member of FIFA’s ruling Council, accusing Grindel of making him a “scapegoat” for failing to do his own job properly.
“Arguably the issue that has frustrated me the most over the past couple of months has been the mistreatment from the DFB and in particular the DFB president Reinhard Grindel. After my picture with President Erdogan I was asked by [coach] Joachim Lowe to cut short my holiday and give a joint statement to end all the talk and set the record straight.
“Whilst I attempted to explain to Grindel my heritage, ancestry and therefore reasoning behind the photo, he was far more interested in speaking about his own political views and belittling my opinion. Whilst his actions were patronising, we came to agree that the best thing to do was concentrate on football and the upcoming World Cup.
“The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten. I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly.”
“People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has players from dual‑heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent. In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
“I am disappointed but not surprised by [Grindel’s] actions. But when high-ranking DFB officials disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough.”
No sooner had Ozil released his bombshell statement than he was in turn denounced by Uli Hoeness, president of Germany’s biggest club Bayern Munich.
“Ozil has been playing crap for years,” Hoeness told SportBild. “He won his last tackle before the 2014 World Cup. Now he hides himself and his crap performance behind this photo. Whenever we played against Arsenal, we played over him, because we knew he was the weak point.”
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