Berlin He was silent for a long time. On Sunday, Mesut Özil’s statements were all the clearer and more extensive. In several written statements that he distributed via Twitter, the 29-year-old international defended himself against his role as a World Cup scapegoat in the affair that has been smoldering since May over the photos with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His three-part statement in English culminated in a personal attack against Reinhard Grindel, the head of the German Football Association (DFB) – and his resignation from the national team.
“With a heavy heart and after long deliberation, because of the recent events I will no longer play for Germany on an international level as long as I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” wrote Özil. He feels badly treated by the DFB and especially its President Grindel. “I will no longer serve as a scapegoat for his incompetence and his inability to do his job properly,” emphasized Özil at Grindel’s address.
Previously, the playmaker of Arsenal FC in London had verbally defended his pictures with the controversial head of state Erdogan and denied political intentions. In addition, Özil attacked German media and sponsoring partners sharply because of their behavior. A future in the DFB selection, which once stood as a model for the integration of migrant children and has now come to the center of a sometimes xenophobic debate, seemed questionable even with these words.
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In the evening, Özil then drew the line under his DFB career in the last part of his written statements.
Özil does not regret meeting Erdogan in London, in which DFB team-mate Ilkay Gündogan also took part. “Whatever the outcome of the previous election or the previous election, I would have taken this photo,” Özil wrote. “Taking a photo with President Erdogan had nothing to do with politics or elections for me, it was out of respect for the highest office in my family’s country.”
Criticism from ex-Green boss Özdemir
Critics saw the photos as a voting aid for Erdogan. “Posing with the ruler Erdogan is disrespectful to those who are being bullied in Turkey or who are arbitrarily imprisoned,” said former Green Chairman Cem Özdemir on Sunday. Özil had not lived up to his role model function. Özil, meanwhile, wrote: “It didn’t matter to me who was president, it mattered that it was the president.”
Özil referred to his Turkish roots. Not meeting Erdogan would have meant not respecting those roots, regardless of who is president. The conversation with Erdogan was about football, not politics. He met Erdogan for the first time in 2010, after he and Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the international match between Germany and Turkey in Berlin. At that time, Özil had been whistled by many visitors of Turkish origin.
The affair surrounding the photos overshadowed the national team’s preparations for the World Cup and was also a disruptive factor during the tournament in Russia. After the DFB team was eliminated for the first time in a World Cup preliminary round, team manager Oliver Bierhoff and DFB boss Grindel demanded that Özil should explain himself publicly. Both were then accused of making the 29-year-old a bogeyman. “I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten,” wrote Özil.
However, the debate about the Erdogan photos went far beyond football. The discussion about the integration of the descendants of migrants and about xenophobia became more intense. “I am German if we win and an immigrant if we lose,” Özil described his situation and reported on hate mail and threats against his family and him.
The past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect, and time to think over the events of the last few months. Consequently, I want to share my thoughts and feelings about what has happened. pic.twitter.com/WpWrlHxx74
— Mesut Özil (@ MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
Özil accused “certain German newspapers” of right-wing propaganda “to advance their political interests”. He was disappointed with the “double standards” in the reporting and referred to a controversial meeting between Lothar Matthäus and Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin. Matthäus did not have to publicly declare himself and is allowed to remain honorary captain. “Does my Turkish heritage make me a better destination?” Asked Özil.
After the pictures with Erdogan, he was subsequently removed from advertising campaigns by a DFB sponsor. All other PR activities for which he was actually intended have been canceled. “It was no longer good for her to be seen with me. They called this situation ‘crisis management’ ”, Özil let know, without specifying the name of the sponsor.
A planned action for a good cause in his former school in Gelsenkirchen did not come about because of the turmoil surrounding the photos. His partners for the charity campaign had told him a few days beforehand that they no longer wanted to work with him at the moment. He also got a rejection from the school. “Honestly, that really hurt,” wrote Özil.
Özil and Arsenal on a promotional tour in Singapore
Shortly after the photos appeared, Özil and Gündogan even attended a meeting with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. While Gündogan expressed himself before the World Cup and assured that it was not a “political statement”, Özil was silent for weeks. Chancellor Merkel spoke to Özil and Gündogan during a visit to the World Cup training camp in South Tyrol. “I think the two players did not consider what the photo triggers with President Erdogan,” Merkel later told ARD.
Eight years ago, a photo of the Chancellor in the dressing room of the DFB team next to the half-naked Özil caused a stir. If national coach Löw now nominates the squad for the next international matches on August 29, Özil will be absent. On September 6th, the dethroned world champion will play in the Nations League in Munich against the new title winner France. A test against Peru in Sinsheim follows on September 9th.
Almost at the same time as the publication of his statements, Özil started a trip to Singapore with Arsenal FC on Sunday. There the “Gunners” go on a promotional tour and meet in a friendship tournament in the National Stadium on Thursday against the Europa League winner Atlético Madrid and on Saturday against the French soccer champion Paris Saint-Germain.