Mesut Ozil's Retirement Fallout: What It Means in Germany, Turkey and EnglandJuly 31, 2018
Mesut Ozil's decision to retire from international football is still creating daily headlines in Germany.
It has been a summer to forget for the Arsenal star, largely blamed for the nation's disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign and heavily criticised for posing for photographs with controversial Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On July 22, Ozil released a statement on Twitter with a three-page explanation of his decision to stop representing the DFB over "racism and disrespect."
The man himself claims, "In the eyes of [DFB President Reinhard] Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose." He reached a point where he could no longer bear the criticism and blame.
In the fallout, there have been plenty of words written and spoken across the world—and in Germany, the opinions continue.
In German publication Bild am Sonntag, Fredi Bobic, the Frankfurt board member of Croatian and Slovenian descent, became the latest big name to hit out at Ozil. He too represented the German national team and gave detailed reasoning into why he felt Ozil was wrong to step down in the manner he did.
Bobic criticised Ozil for releasing the statement via social media and in English. He said the nature of his resignation was cowardly. He said Ozil's feelings over racism and disrespect were "unbearable" and added, "This blanket charge of racism is simply not reality."
In simple terms, he disregarded pretty much every detail of Ozil's feelings and emotions.
Still, we wait to hear from German coach Joachim Low and whether bridges can be ever rebuilt for Ozil to one day return to the setup or indeed ever play again in Bundesliga.
But for now, Germany seems no home for Mesut Ozil.
Of course, there are other sides to this story too. There are Ozil's Turkish roots to fall back on and a life in England that suddenly seems to have more significance and meaning.
Right now, both can provide comfort.
In the hometown of Ozil's family in Turkey, locals are showing support for a man they consider one of their own.
Ozil's grandparents migrated to Germany, but the family roots trace back to Devrek, a district of an estimated 27,000 people in the Black Sea region.
In Devrek, one street was named Mesut Ozil Avenue in tribute to him, and there was a sign with him in Germany colours.
That sign is now gone—replaced by one with Ozil shaking hands with Erdogan. It's the image that marked the beginning of the end of Ozil's Germany career.
Mustafa Semerci, the mayor of Devrek, explained how they decided to change the sign after "we watched with sadness what was done to Ozil," according to Turkish news agency DHA (via Reuters).
While there may be people in Germany who struggle to identify with Ozil, Turkish nationals have not found his life decisions easy to accept either.
"A lot of Turks were not best pleased when Ozil decided to play for Germany," Turkish football expert Emre Sarigul told Bleacher Report. "They simply could not and still to this day many cannot understand why he plays for Germany. To them, Ozil is a Turk and should play for Turkey. It's that black and white. They don't see that Ozil was born in Germany, is a German citizen, was raised by German football, given a chance by the national team.
"Despite these grievances, even if you ask the most angered Turkish fan, what is Ozil? They'd still say he's a Turk. Some even called him a traitor. But his identity did not change because of a footballing decision or what they perceived to be a mistake. The two are not and should not be correlated.
"He does not fit a standard binary identity. As he said, 'I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish.'
"Ozil was genuinely a role model. Here you have a man who was able to rise to the highest level attainable for a footballer in Germany while keeping his Turkish heritage, practicing his faith and serving his country of birth. He tackled several tricky identity issues and actually did more for integration than critics claiming he did the opposite. I remember when Germany won the World Cup, I myself was proud of him and what he had achieved."
Ozil was born in Gelsenkirchen, began his professional football career at Schalke and Werder Bremen and played 92 times for Germany while mostly plying his trade at Real Madrid and Arsenal.
Yet, for whatever reason, Ozil has become a scapegoat. There has been plenty written about his struggle to prove himself as a German national, but it should not be forgotten he has had problems being accepted in English football too.
Often referred to as "lazy" or "overrated" for performances in an Arsenal shirt over the past five years, there have been times when many an Arsenal fan would have happily seen him sold.
In this Bleacher Report article, written after Germany's first World Cup match this summer, a body language expert explained how certain traits in Ozil's mannerisms conveyed negative messages. The visual communication given off by Ozil can make it hard to empathise with him.
Still, in Germany, the criticism seems to run much deeper. In the days that have passed since Ozil's exit from the national side, the most hard-hitting words have probably come from Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness.
"I'm glad this nightmare is over," he told Bild. "He has been playing crap for years. The last tackle he won was before the 2014 World Cup—and now he is hiding himself and his poor performances behind this photo."
Hoeness' suggestion that Ozil is using the photo in his own defence seems bizarre, given the image has been shoved in his face from the moment it emerged in the public eye.
Ozil's agent, Dr. Erkut Sogut, certainly did not welcome the comments, per Goal:
"The comments of Mr Hoeness miss the point completely, as they have absolutely nothing to do with football. He is trying to divert attention away from the real issue, the issue of racism and discrimination in Germany, which is resurging once again within everyday German society.
"As Mesut said in his statement, he accepts reasonable and fair criticism of his football, and deals with that as part of the job. However, Mr Hoeness cannot even provide any actual evidence to back up his foolish statements that are clearly exaggerated. ...
"Mr Hoeness, we will not waste any more time or energy talking about a subject clearly you know nothing about. Not only is he a disgrace to yourself, but also and more importantly a shame to German football and the people of Germany."
Turkish-Football.com's Sarigul said elements of society could not wait to take the opportunity to condemn Ozil for his photograph with Erdogan.
"I think his Turkish roots made him a convenient scapegoat," Sarigul said. "I think we need to tackle the photograph incident. If you think he was right, that's your opinion. If you think he was wrong, that's your opinion. Ozil made it clear he was respecting his heritage by meeting the Turkish president and respecting the office. You may think he was naive or believe him.
"But if you think he was in the wrong, well, he does have the right to be wrong. He has the right to make mistakes. It is perfectly understandable to criticise or support the photograph depending on your viewpoint. I can empathise with both viewpoints.
"The photograph was exploited by the far-right and their enablers, almost as if they have been waiting for Ozil to slip up. And, boy, did they pounce. Here we had a World Cup winner, a German national hero, a role model turned into an enemy of the state because of a photograph. The real tragedy is that a man who has achieved so much for the country he was born in still cannot gain total acceptance."
Despite the aforementioned difficulties at Arsenal, Ozil is now seeking comfort in a red and white shirt.
The club have been wholesome in their support for him since he joined up for pre-season, even putting him in contention to captain the side for the upcoming season. New head coach Unai Emery clearly feels a need to embrace the player right now and possibly feels that this chaotic time in his life could lead to him producing some of the best football of his career.
Tom Hopkinson works for The Mirror and was on hand in Singapore to see Ozil wear the captain's armband in Arsenal's 5-1 International Champions Cup victory over a youthful Paris Saint-Germain side.
Ozil scored in the win, but it was his all-round demeanour that stood out and could give reason for optimism.
"Ozil was asked to press the PSG defence and he linked up well with (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang and (Henrikh) Mkhitaryan at times. Emery is giving him more individual responsibility by talking him up as one of the five club captains," he told B/R. "I think that will help him. He will be different under Emery, maybe won't get away with a few of the things he did under Wenger.
"He has often kept himself to himself but this is like a new start for him with a new coach, new signings and new responsibility. The changes might be good for him."
Ozil still has an opportunity to overcome his identity struggle by showcasing his talent on the field.
And as Arsenal put faith in him on the pitch and Turkish people support from afar, time will tell whether Germany and Ozil can ever put this mess behind them. There are signs that it is possible.
"After the picture of Ozil with president Erdogan, at first everyone in Germany was really shocked and the people around me criticised him a lot," German football journalist Christian Hoch told B/R. "A few in Germany wanted him to be out of the national team. But after the failure of DFB-heads Grindel and Oliver Bierhoff, who mentioned Ozil as the person responsible for the disaster during the World Cup 2018 in Russia, there has been a change of emotions in Germany. There have been more and more people, who stood with Ozil. There have been statistics, expressing that Ozil is an important player for Germany."
In Berlin on Sunday there was a protest by fans, showing support for the player, and displaying solidarity in his time of need. For Ozil and Germany, perhaps this is not quite the end of the road.