After being singled out for criticism following Germany’s World Cup first round exit for the first time in 80 years, the 29-year-old Arsenal midfielder has announced his retirement from international football.
Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan came in for heavy reproval after being pictured with controversial Turkish president Recep Erdogan in May and the pair were booed in Germany’s pre World Cup friendlies, with DFB president Reinhard Grindel asking Ozil for an explanation and apology for his actions while general manager Olivier Bierhoff called for his exclusion from future national team engagements after Germany’s dismal World Cup, questioning his commitment to the German cause.
Ozil had largely been silent about the criticisms, but in a three-part statement released early on Sunday, he addressed the reason behind his meeting with Erdogan in the first part, slammed the German media for his scapegoating in the second part, and hit out at DFB president Reinhard Grindel and being subjected to racism in the final part of the statement before announcing his retirement from international football.
Though his decision was drastic and unexpected, in light of all that has happened during the course of Ozil’s German career, it is the right one. Here are three reasons why Ozil was right to announce his international retirement.
#3 His commitment always came into question when Germany performed poorly
It has been a recurring theme in Ozil’s career, not getting enough credit for his brilliance when his teams win and taking the brunt of the blame when his team loses. Since Germany’s World Cup exit, almost all the responsibility has unashamedly been put on Ozil, with his body language during Germany’s matches suggested as disinterested and his commitment to Germany questioned by the media.
Those claims are as false as they are disrespectful and Ozil has endured this from both his clubs and the national team, he has shown extreme maturity to have ignored these unjust criticisms till now, but there comes a time when enough is enough and that time is now.
On his day, Ozil is unarguably one of the best attacking midfielders in the world and Germany has benefited from his immense creativity over the last decade. Ozil made 92 appearances for Germany from 2009 till date, scoring 23 goals and making 40 assists(the highest in German history). In essence, Ozil has a goal involvement ratio of 0.7goals/game for Germany. That is an outstanding return and his inputs have been crucial to all Germany’s achievements over the last ten years.
He has been named German Player of the Year on 5 occasions(a German record) out of his ten years with the national team and was a member of the Euro 2012 team of the tournament, being the joint-top assist provider at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. So to question his commitment to Germany is a crime. Whenever Germany wins, they have a good team despite all of Ozil’s brilliance, but when Germany loses it is because Ozil is not committed enough?
Germany’s preparations for this World Cup were far from ideal, from wrong team base selections to rumors of infighting among the players and Joachim Low’s very controversial decisions to drop Leroy Sane and select Manuel Neuer over Ter Stegen despite Neuer having not played competitively since September last year. All these factors probably played a role in Germany’s dismal World Cup campaign, but instead of focusing on the major issues and seeking ways to redress them, Ozil’s commitment is being brought to the fore. Mesut Ozil has endured these unjust criticisms for far too long, and was right in announcing his retirement.
#2 Poor portrayal by the German media
In today’s world where increased technology means the world is now a global village, the media has become an extremely powerful tool in shaping public opinion about everything, ranging from politicians, celebrities to global issues.
Footballers are not left out, as worldwide interest in the game means that fans follow up daily for news updates about their favourite clubs and players. The internet’s global reach enables fans from all over the world to have access to such information provided. So the media and journalists have a huge control over the public perceptions of players.
The media in Germany have played a central role in promoting the view of Ozil being uncommitted and it was an issue which the midfielder addressed in the second part of his statement, saying:
”If a newspaper or pundit finds fault in a game I play in, then I can accept this- I’m not a perfect footballer and this motivates me to work and train harder. But what I can’t accept is the German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad.”
The German media’s crucifixion of Ozil after the World Cup is unacceptable and disappointing for all he has contributed to the German national team cause.
There has also been an appalling target of Ozil’s Turkish ancestry to stir German fans’ resentment against him. A German newspaper in the fallout of the World Cup did not criticize Ozil’s performance or the team’s performance, but used Ozil’s picture with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as their headline, before going on to disrespect Ozil’s ancestry by suggesting it was the cause for Germany’s elimination. This was not only unfounded but also highly unprofessional.
Ozil’s meeting with Erdogan was out of respect to his Turkish ancestry and not with any political undertone as he explained in his statement and the outrage and criticisms stemming from the picture are as a result of his origins as pointed out by Ozil due to the double standards are shown, as Lothar Matthaus also met with some controversial world leaders a few days ago but didn’t receive any criticism from the media.
Sponsors pulled out of their engagements to Ozil and promotional charities were cancelled owing to these companies’ fears of a media backlash and it is a huge shame as Ozil is an extremely charitable footballer, supporting numerous benevolent causes, including donating all his 2014 World Cup winnings (about £240,0000) for 23 sick Brazilian children to have surgery and visiting a refugee camp in Jordan housing over 80,000 people displaced by the Syrian war. Yet none of his charitable causes get German media attention, with the press instead choosing to focus on his picture with Erdogan and him being booed by German fans which is a shame to journalistic integrity.
#1 Blatant racism due to his Turkish heritage
Mesut Ozil is a third generation Turkish-German but has shown absolute loyalty and dedication to Germany for the duration of his ten-year career with Die Mannschaft as his very impressive statistics show. So for reference to always be made to his dual-ancestry every time his criticism arises is disheartening.
Racism is an abomination that has no place on earth, let alone in the footballing world where global admiration of football has led to diverse cultures and history being assimilated in love of the beautiful game. Unfortunately, there is still a wide issue of racism in football which the governing bodies of the game are trying to address.
Footballers are constant targets of racism, as opposition fans disgustingly taunt them on virtue of the color of their skin or ancestral heritage and while racism by opposition fans is bad enough, to endure it from the media, supporters and politicians of a nation which you have vigorously defended with blood, sweat and injuries for almost a decade is preposterous.
Ozil has had to persist with his ancestry being called into question at all opportunities during his German career and this is rather uncalled for as he has been nothing but professional and dedicated throughout his career.
No player is perfect and can be on top form forever, so all footballers throughout history have endured a period during which they suffered a slump in form and Mesut Ozil is no exception, but to attribute his drop in performance to a lack of commitment due to his ancestry is nothing short of outright racism and Ozil’s anger is justified.
As pointed out by Ozil in his statement, the way he has been treated by the German press, DFB and politicians has been racially motivated and he singled out DFB President Reinhard Grindel, with his body language and statements suggesting that Ozil is German when they win, but an immigrant when they lose.
Ozil also pointed out other disgusting acts of racism in his statement by German politicians, highlighting comments by Bernd Holzhauer and Werner Steer which referenced him in unprintable terms.
Ozil’s decision was a hard one to come to, as revealed in his statement, but acts of racism and feeling unloved by the German media and politicians made him arrive at the ‘difficult decision’ and he said that: ” I now feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.”
Racism is a disgraceful stigma in the world, and Ozil’s decision sends a strong message that it is wrong to discriminate anyone on account of the colour of his skin, hence announcing his retirement is a bold statement and the right one from Mesut Ozil.
By Elvis Umeh