Mesut Ozil's Germany exit worse than any World Cup loss
Mesut Ozil's withdrawal from the German national team Sunday night came in three stages, just as the former World Cup holders' premature exit in Russia had done. But parts of his statement contained accusations so explosive that the controversy will certainly not stop there. German FA President Reinhard Grindel -- who, Ozil alleges, had made him "a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly," "disrespected [the player's] Turkish roots" and "selfishly turned [him] into political propaganda" -- will have a tough time clinging to his job amid the political fallout.
The first part of the Arsenal playmaker's tripartite social media communique sought to explain the motives behind him (and Man City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan) meeting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London in May, the start of the controversy. Ozil, the Gelsenkirchen-born grandson of Turkish immigrants, explained that he had "two hearts, one German, one Turkish." The 29-year-old said that he had met with Erdogan many times before, and that having his picture taken with the Turkish president "was not about politics or elections but about respecting the highest office of my family's countries." Ozil added that the meeting was not meant as an endorsement of the policies of Erdogan, whose crackdown on political opponents, freedom of speech and the media have brought wide-scale rebuke from Western politicians, and that "not meeting with the President would have been disrespecting the roots of my ancestors."
Only Ozil himself will know whether his reasoning is entirely genuine. Turkish sports stars who have dared to criticise Erdogan, such as former international Hakan Sukur or NBA player Enes Kanter, have faced severe repercussions for themselves and their families, which could explain Ozil's inability to distance himself from Erdogan. Conversely, he might simply feel that Erdogan, who was recently re-elected, is, on balance, a good president for Turkey. Either way, what's completely missing from Ozil's statement is any sense of regret or even acknowledgement that the meeting created an ill-timed, unwanted distraction for the entire Germany team a few days before they were due to head off to Russia.
No one will argue that the highly emotional debate that followed in the German media had any lasting negative effect on the squad. But Ozil's refusal to discuss the matter earlier probably goes some way to explain the scant public support he's received from his teammates thus far.
In the second part of his message, the 2014 World Cup winner criticises his former school, unnamed sponsors and commercial partners for not standing by him, as well as "certain German newspapers" for using the photo with Erdogan "as right-wing propaganda to further their political cause." It's difficult not to agree with Ozil on the latter point in light of tabloid Bild directly juxtaposing Donald Trump's claim that Germans were "turning against their leadership" due to crime perpetrated by immigrants with Lothar Matthaus' tendentious view that Ozil did "not feel comfortable in the Germany shirt." In below-the-line comments and social media, too, much of the criticism of his performance had crossed over into racist territory.
A thinly veiled attack was also directed at Mercedes-Benz, who as partners of the German FA airbrushed him out of national-team campaigns. Ozil said he feels that sort of "crisis management" doesn't tally with the carmaker installing illegal software that masked diesel emissions. "Whilst I was being criticised and asked to justify my actions by the [German FA], there was no such official and public explanation demanded of the [German FA] sponsor," he noted. Further down in his statement, Ozil reprints a number of revolting insults of his Turkish background by members of the German public.
But the bulk of Ozil's ire was directed at German FA boss Grindel, whom the player accuses of bigotry. "In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," he wrote, alleging that the former member of parliament of the conservative CDU party had a "racially discriminative background" after coming out against multiculturalism, "voting against legislation for dual-citizenship" and "saying that Islamic culture has become too ingrained in many German cities."
On top of that, Ozil said he feels betrayed by the inconsistent way Grindel allegedly dealt with the affair. According to the player, the German FA president was "upset" he wasn't allowed to attend a meeting between Ozil, Gundogan and Germany's president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and first agreed that the player should concentrate on football, only to publicly insist on a statement and a "commitment to German citizenship" once Germany had crashed out of the World Cup in embarrassing fashion.
"Whilst I attempted to explain 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," Ozil wrote, contrasting Grindel's stance with the backing he received from Germany manager Joachim Low and team manager Oliver Bierhoff.
"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,"Ozil concluded, being careful not use the word "retirement." The wording of his angry goodbye note leaves the door ever so slightly open for a return under a different German FA president.
Grindel indeed will come under well-deserved pressure for presiding over the affair in a manner that has seen an erstwhile poster boy for football-supported integration call time on his international career. Whether Grindel's resignation could pave a way back for Ozil remains doubtful, however, if the predictably dismissive reaction by Bild is anything to go by. The paper accused Ozil of "whining" on Sunday night.
Sadly, they are yet to realise that July 22, 2018 marks a defeat that's much more painful and unsettling for German football than anything that happened in Russia this summer. The most technically gifted player of his generation feels he can no longer represent the white and black colours due to racism. Let that horrific sentence sink in.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein