From Kanay Jubal, Abuja
Germany’s Mesut Ozil announced his retirement from international football Sunday at the age of 29, citing racism and lashing out at the president of the German football federation.
The Arsenal midfielder will not add to his 92 caps, 23 goals and 40 assists for his country following political tensions regarding his Turkish roots and being dropped from the starting XI during this summer’s World Cup as the defending champions crashed out in the group stage.
Ozil was heavily criticized in Germany for his meeting with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, when he and Ilkay Gundogan posed for a photo with the Turkish president during his visit to London.
The Arsenal midfielder finally broke his silence on the issue Sunday by posting a lengthy statement on social media insisting that he had done nothing wrong, before finally concluding that he was done playing for the German national team.
“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 whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect,” he wrote. “I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t.”
Born in Gelsenkirchen to Turkish parents, Ozil opted to play for Germany in November 2006 when invited by Turkey’s FA to take part in a friendly against Italy, saying that he did “not plan to take on Turkish citizenship.”
Ozil became a key player for Germany’s golden generation, starting by winning the 2009 Under-21 European Championships, as Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Benedikt Howedes and Ozil became a core group in the senior team that went on to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Ozil made his senior debut for Germany in February 2009 and went on to become one of the stars of a revived German side at the 2010 World Cup, as the team finished third, starting in every match in South Africa.
He would then start in every game at a major tournament until Germany’s 2-1 win against Sweden at the 2018 World Cup, which came after a 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the opening game, amid the ongoing row over his willingness to integrate into German society.
While Gundogan had explained his part in the Erdogan photograph in the lead-up to the World Cup, Ozil opted to remain silent on the issue, leading to political turmoil. The German football federation (DFB) has said the meeting was ill-advised, and Ozil’s performances at the World Cup were also heavily scrutinised in the wake of the controversy.
And Ozil on Sunday defended his part in the photo, saying it wasn’t about politics but about respecting the office of the presidency, adding that he believed his critics used the photo “as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies.”
“I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intentions,” Ozil wrote. “For me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
Earlier this month, the head of the German football federation, Reinhard Grindel, had said Ozil owed fans an explanation for his actions when he returned from his post-World Cup holiday. Ozil’s statement was posted as Arsenal were preparing to fly to Singapore for a preseason tour, with Ozil having joined up with the squad just in time for the trip.
Ozil said the “mistreatment from the DFB, and in particular” Grindel was the issue that “frustrated” him the most. He accused Grindel of being “far more interested in speaking of his own political views and belittling my opinion” and said the federation turned him into “political propaganda.”
“I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly,” Ozil wrote. “I know that [Grindel] wanted me out the team after the picture, and publicized his view on Twitter without any thinking or consultation, but [coach] Joachim Low and [director] Oliver Bierhoff stood up for me and backed me.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
Ozil also criticized Grindel’s past record as a member of Germany’s Parliament, concluding: “People with racially discriminating backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has many players from dual-heritage families.”
Ozil went on to list a number of honours he received for contributing to German society, and questioned why the public appeared reluctant to accept him.
“Are there criteria for being fully German that I do not fit?” he asked. “My friend Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are never referred to as German-Polish, so why am I German-Turkish? Is it because it is Turkey? Is it because I’m a Muslim?
Racism: Ozil quits Germany Nat’l Team
From Kanay Jubal, Abuja