It was a drama right until the end. Not just a statement, but a statement delivered in three acts. With deliberately staged intervals. In what was a highly-charged and controversial announcement, Mesut Özil spared nobody. Here, I attempt to unpick it. Act by act. Scene by scene. Point by point.
It was a bizarre ride. On at 11:42 UK time on Sunday 22nd July, Özil issued first statement, I/III: Meeting President Erdogan. In attempting to justify his meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 14th May, Özil was as off the mark as he and the rest of the German team had been last month in Russia.
Then, after a fashionable delay came II/III: Media and Sponsors. 14:03. As the composer and conductor Özil looked to involve more of the orchestra, he turned defence into attack with a stinging broadside against the media and his sponsors.
At 19:04, a minute over five hours later, came the third and final act. III/III: DFB. The dénouement, that saw Özil project himself as some tragic figure, forced to leap into the pyre of international exile, with the dark clouds of hatred, racism and circumstance closing in. While there were tiny slivers of truth, much of it was drama of the highest order. Brunnhilde, but with a touch of Mime.
Given his standing as an established German international, Özil’s decision to deliver his three-part statement in English was strange. On the one hand, he was clearly looking to connect with his many international fans and followers. On the other, it could be seen as the final insult to those in his homeland. German fans would simply have to suck it up and translate it themselves.
“Conspiracy of racists”
Following the three statements, it all kicked off on social media. With arguments quickly turning binary – as is par for the course in any online discourse – two distinct camps quickly emerged. The “Prözil” people on one side. On the other, almost everybody else. Critics, banded together by football’s Twitter denizens. Misguided at best, bigots and closet racists at worst.
Very quickly, all sense of nuance was lost. It was no longer about the player’s cretinous decision to willingly partake in an Erdoğan PR stunt, nor even his complete lack of contrition. It was not even about the DFB’s slug-like trail of incompetence, and their inability to manage a piss up in a Brauerei.
For Özil, it was all about racism. As for how deep this all goes and who is to blame, it depends on whose columns you choose to read, and how you choose to interpret them. The media. Former players. Disgruntled supporters. Right-wingers. DFB president Reinhard Grindel. The entire DFB, according to some of the more race-obsessed scribblers out there. Even poor old Jogi Löw, who was clearly unable to work his Maharishi magic on the mighty Mesut.
There are those who truly believe that Özil has been hounded out of the German national team by a conspiracy of racists, with Grindel the arch-demon at the top. I, on the other hand, have thought it better to step back a bit. I understand that there will be some who will dismiss all of these counterarguments and considerations out of hand. After all, nothing can be allowed to get in the way of an ideological position.
Act I: “Meeting President Erdogan”
So, we have the first act of this drama. Özil’s response to critics over the meeting with President Erdoğan on 14th May in London, when those infamous images first emerged.
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
The man with two hearts
Like many people, my ancestry traces back to more than one country. Whilst I grew up in Germany, my family background has its roots firmly based in Turkey. I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish. During my childhood, my mother taught me to always be respectful and to never forget where I came from, and these are still values that I think about to this day.
Like many people, Özil’s ancestry traces him back to more than one country. He has two hearts. One German, one Turkish. Apart from those on the political fringes, nobody has ever voiced any serious objection to this. There are others with dual heritage in the current German squad, and there surely will be many more. Nobody should be expected to forget their roots.
As an opening gambit, this is all rather sedate. It is carefully crafted to segue into Özil’s explanation of the meeting with Erdoğan.
“No political intentions”
In May, I met President Erdoğan in London, during a charitable and educational event. We first met in 2010 after he and Angela Merkel watched the Germany vs. Turkey match together in Berlin. Since then, our paths have crossed a lot of times around the globe. I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in the German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intentions.
Nobody has provided any information on how this meeting was either charitable or educational. From what we have seen, it was little more than a publicity stunt, a golden opportunity for the Turkish leader to get a good series of eye-catching shots ahead of the presidential election.
Cumhurbaşkanımız Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, çeşitli temaslarda bulunmak üzere gittiği İngiltere'nin başkenti Londra'da Premier Lig'de oynayan Türk futbolcu Cenk Tosun, Türk asıllı futbolcu Mesut Özil ve Türk asıllı futbolcu İlkay Gündoğan'ı kabul etti. pic.twitter.com/X3ZY8wwCsa
— AK Parti (@Akparti) May 14, 2018
(The above is a tweet by Erdoğan’s party, the AKP).
If there was any charity involved, the only beneficiary was Erdoğan himself. If there was any education on show, it was perfect propaganda fodder for the Turkish electorate. Namely, their being “educated” as to what a popular guy Reccep Tayyip is.
Naive, or terminally stupid
As I said, my mother has never let me lose sight of my ancestry, heritage and family traditions. 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. My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies. In fact, we spoke about the same topic that we do every time we have met – football – as he too was a player in his youth
Even if one chooses to believe that Özil was not lying or being deceitful, surely his advisors would have known that there could only have been one beneficiary from the London meeting. In return for providing Erdoğan with free election publicity, one has to wonder what Özil had to gain. More so, given the very obvious risk of public opprobrium in Germany.
The reality is that Özil did not need to even express open support of Erdoğan or his policies. The Colgate smiles and signed Arsenal shirt were bad enough. What has been carefully missed out in many of the articles on this subject is that Erdoğan is not just a tyrant in his own country, but a serial meddler in others. Courting support – and votes – from ethnic Turks, he and his people have been busy, not just in Germany but also in other western European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
Erdoğan has constantly railed against assimilation, and his tactic has been to incite those of Turkish origin living in European countries to adopt a similar Islamist position. It is completely fair to suggest that the Turkish leader, and those who support him, are not in line with European values.
For having the temerity to complain about his cynical electioneering, German officials were branded as “Nazis” by the shrill Turkish leader. This was hard to ignore, unless one was living under a rock. One can only conclude that Özil was incredibly naive, terminally stupid, or directed by advisors and agents who knew exactly what they were doing.
The fact that Erdoğan happened to be a footballer in his youth is neither here nor there. Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was a former boxing champion, before he started throwing political opponents into the Nile to be eaten by crocodiles. As for Özil invoking his mother, this is nothing but emotional ballast.
“I met and presented a signed shirt to an Islamist tyrant, because Mummy told me to”. Right. Pull the other one.
Respect and disrespect
It gets better. Much better.
Although the German media have portrayed something different, the truth is that not meeting with the President would have been disrespecting the roots of my ancestors, who I know would be proud of where I am today.
There is nothing wrong with respecting the roots of one’s ancestors. However, conflating this with the personality of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is absurd at best. Not just absurd, but laughable.
One can be close to one’s roots without needing to associate with a dodgy politician. Since his election to office in 2014, the Turkish president has worked hard to roll back the secularist principles that have defined modern Turkey for just short of a century. Mesut Özil may think otherwise, but Erdoğan is not Turkey, and Turkey is not Erdoğan.
If anything, making a decision not to meet Erdoğan would have been more of a statement. This was the position of CDU politician Serap Güler, who is current secretary for integration in Özil’s home state of Nordrhein-Westfalen – and also of Turkish descent. Güler’s position was simple. Die Einladung eines Autokraten auszuschlagen, wäre nicht respektlos gewesen. Es hätte Haltung gezeigt.
“To refuse the invitation of an autocrat would not have been disrespectful. It would have shown attitude”.
Had Özil really wanted to respect his ancestors, he would have visited Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum at Anıtkabir. Nobody would have complained had he taken a photograph there.
“It didn’t matter”
For me, it didn’t matter who was President, it mattered that it was the President. Having respect for political office is a view that I’m sure both the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May share when they too hosted Erdogan in London. Whether it had been the Turkish or the German President, my actions would’ve been no different.
Does Özil really believe this? Comparing himself with the Queen and British Prime Minister Theresa May is completely ridiculous. The Queen is a head of state. If there is a state dinner with other heads of state, she would be obliged to attend, and meet the likes of Erdoğan.
With his recent removal of the office of Prime Minister in Turkey, Erdoğan is also the head of the Turkish government. This means that if there is a meeting of various heads of government, Theresa May would be obliged to meet him in an official capacity.
This protocol clearly does not apply to Mesut Özil, who chose to accept an invitation to a London hotel as a private individual.
As for his respect for the position of Turkish president, one can call Özil out there too. Erdoğan has only held the office since 2014, and Özil was meeting him for long before that. Meanwhile, there is no record of the player ever meeting Erdoğan’s predecessor Abdullah Gül.
I get that this may be hard to understand, as in most cultures the political leader cannot be thought of as being separate from the person. But in this case, it is different. Whatever the outcome would’ve been in this previous election, or the election before that, I would have still taken the picture.
I am finding this hard to understand, as would many millions of Turkish citizens who had not voted for Erdoğan. Not forgetting those who are currently rotting in his prison cells.
The final sentence is perhaps the most damning of all. It tells us that any form of contrition, let alone an apology, would never have been forthcoming. Not after the event, not with any attempted intercession from the DFB, and not now.
Act II: Media and Sponsors
After the crashing crescendo of Act I, the prelude to Act II is the closest Özil gets to any sort of self-criticism. But this does not last for long; the drums soon start rolling again with what could best be described as an exercise in whataboutery.
II / III pic.twitter.com/Jwqv76jkmd
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
The blame game
A lot of people talk about my performances – many applaud and many criticise. 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 often motivates me to work and train harder. But what I can’t accept, are German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad.
After a couple of sentences that look promising, it is all bum notes. Özil accuses German media outlets of “repeatedly” blaming his dual heritage for the team’s collective failure; while there might have been the occasional reference to this, most of the criticism (unfairly or otherwise) had been concentrated on his performance.
Among Özil’s most vocal critics were former players. Mario Basler argued that the playmaker was massively overrated, and accused him of having “the body language of a dead frog”. While this might have been interpreted as a barbed comment on Özil’s appearance, it had nothing to do with his background. Lothar Matthäus was another ex-international who had something to say, but again the emphasis was on the player’s lack of passion in a Germany shirt. Ditto Stefan Effenberg.
While some of the comments may have pushed the boundaries of taste, there was no reference whatsoever to Özil’s background.
The Leitmotiv of the Erdoğan photograph then reappears, and Özil again plays it down. “A simple picture”, he says. No further comment is necessary.
Certain German newspapers are using my background and photo with President Erdogan as right-wing propaganda to further their political cause. Why else did they use pictures and headlines with my name as a direct explanation for defeat in Russia?
Yet more absurdity. There is no doubt that some sections of the German media had unfairly targeted Özil, both before and after the tournament. But to suggest that this was some elaborate right-wing propaganda plot? Really? As for the media having any political cause or axe to grind, the accusation is pretty laughable.
It is fair to conclude that Özil, off the back of the Erdoğan incident, had become a scapegoat for Germany’s failure in Russia. A number of negative headlines were accompanied by images of the Mannschaft’s number ten. But this was not as systematic as some would have us believe. Following the defeat against South Korea, it was Toni Kroos, rather than Özil, whose image was plastered on the back pages along with the dramatic headlines.
Looking at the three leading newspapers in Germany that can be described as being politically right of centre, the popular tabloid Bild simply stated “no words”, with an image of Kroos. The more serious Die Welt also carried a shot of Kroos, with his head in his hands. The headline: “over and out”. The conservative broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung went with a more objective capture of the South Koreans’ opening goal.
They didn’t criticise my performances. They didn’t criticise the team’s performances, they just criticised my Turkish ancestry and respect for my upbringing. This crosses a personal line that should never be crossed, as newspapers try to turn the nation of Germany against me.
Bild had given the entire team a zero rating after the defeat against South Korea. Die Welt had awarded Özil the lowest score of 5, alongside Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, Marvin Plattenhardt and Timo Werner.
There were negative headlines, yes. As for there being any other motive, racial, right-wing or otherwise, it was only in the mind of the player himself. At no point was it ever obvious that Özil was being targeted because of his background or cultural heritage.
Furthermore, if there was any sort of plot orchestrated by the right-wing press in pursuit of some unfathomable political cause, it does not make sense that only Özil would be targeted. Jérôme Boateng had a shocking World Cup, highlighted by his boneheaded red card against Sweden. Sami Khedira was truly awful in both of his outings in Russia, where he had been subbed off early.
The straw men: Lothar Matthäus and Vladmir Putin
Since his retirement, Lothar Matthäus has remained heavily involved in the game. As a coach, Germany’s 1990 World Cup winning captain has been far from stellar. As a pundit, some of his comments have left plenty to be desired. His private life can be described as anything between a comedy and a car crash. Despite Matthäus’ status as one of the greatest players to wear the Nationaltrikot, his post-playing career has often made him a media target himself.
Sometimes, however, the biggest targets can be the most difficult to hit. Matthäus was one of Mesut Özil’s most vocal critics, and had largely focussed on football. Had Özil decided to concentrate on this in his statement, he might have found something valuable to say. Instead, he decided to build a straw man.
What I also find disappointing are the double standards that the media has. Lothar Matthaus (an honorary German national team captain) met with another world leader a few days back, and received almost no media criticism. Despite his role with the DFB (German national team), they have not asked him to publicly explain his actions and he continues to represent the players of Germany without any reprimand.
This is a classic attempt at deflection, and is whataboutery at its best. It is also comparing apples to oranges.
We have all seen the photographs of Matthäus with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Yes, there he is. The former German great, shaking hands and exchanging smiles. It looks bad, and comparable to Özil’s meeting with Erdoğan. Until you realise that Matthäus was not there as a private citizen or even on behalf of the DFB, but as a representative of FIFA.
As one of the legends of the game, Matthäus and a number of others were seen accompanying FIFA supremo Gianni Infantini at a number of tournament-related events. Those others included Danish international Peter Schmeichel, Dutchman Marco van Basten, Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, and two English representatives from their male and female teams, Rio Ferdinand and Alex Scott.
From that 8 year old on my estate playing cage football, fast forward to sitting alongside the president of FIFA discussing the power of world football in the Kremlin today🙋🏽♀️😳 #WorldCup #fifa pic.twitter.com/3aXCvMo424
— Alex Scott MBE (@AlexScott) July 6, 2018
There were no individual agendas at play. This was a nothing more than a gathering of big names from the world of football, sitting with Infantini and meeting with the president of the host nation.
If the media felt that I should have been left of the World Cup squad, then surely he [Matthäus] should be stripped of his honorary captaincy? Does my Turkish heritage make me a more worthy target?
No, Mesut. Your Turkish heritage does not make you a more “worthy” target. Unless, of course, you choose to believe that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a worthy representative of Turkish heritage.
As for Matthäus, there is no case to answer. The comparison is ridiculous.
School’s out for summer
Özil quickly changes key, turning towards his old school, the Berger Feld in Gelsenkirchen:
I’ve always thought that a “partnership” infers support, both in the good times and also during tougher situations. Recently, I planned to visit my former school Berger-Feld in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, along with two of my charitable partners. I funded a project for one year where immigrant children, children from poor families and any other children can play football together and learn social rules for life.
However, days before we were scheduled to go, I was abandoned by my so-called “partners”, who no longer wanted to work with me at this time. To add to this, the school told my management that they no longer wanted me to be there at this time, as they “feared the media” due to my picture with President Erdogan, especially with the “right-wing party in Gelsenkirchen on the rise”. In all honesty, this really hurt. Despite being a student of theirs back when I was younger. I was made to feel unwanted and unworthy of their time.
While this is sad, there is nothing particularly unreasonable about the school wanting to take a step back. Erdoğan is not just a tyrant, but a meddler who has interfered in German affairs. There may have been a reaction from not only local politicians and school staff, but also local parents. Gelsenkirchen has a large Turkish community, and things could have taken a nasty turn.
As it happens, Özil is again being economical with the truth. According to the head teacher at Berger Feld, there were scheduling problems. Maike Selter-Beer has admitted that there had also been genuine concerns about the right-wing reaction, but that this had been discussed with Özil’s lawyers. It was not so much a rejection of Özil, but a decision to take more care over managing the relationship.
As for Özil being made to feel “unwanted” and “unworthy” of the school’s time, this is also in conflict with the facts. According to Selter-Beer, the school is happy to welcome its former pupil. Either the school is lying, or Özil is massaging the facts in order to score a few valuable emotional brownie points. It shows just how far he is willing to go in order to paint himself as a victim. Even his former school is “racist”.
In the same article, Selter-Beer has said that a visit has been arranged to take place in the early autumn. It will be interesting to see what the local media will have to say when Özil turns up at the school gates.
Mesut and Mercedes-Benz: more whataboutery
Next, Özil takes a swing at German auto manufacturer Mercedes-Benz.
In addition to this I was renounced by another partner. As they are also a sponsor of the DFB, I was asked to take part in promotional videos for the World Cup. Yet after my picture with President Erdogan they took me out of the campaigns and cancelled all promotional activities that were scheduled. For them it was no longer good to be seen with me and called the situation “crisis management”.
This is all ironic because a German Ministry declared their products have illegal and unauthorized software devices in them, which puts customers at risk. Hundreds of thousands of their products are getting recalled. Whilst I was being criticised and asked to justify my actions by the DFB, there was no such official and public explanation demanded of the DFB sponsor. Why? Am I right in thinking this is worse than a picture with the President of my family’s country? What does the DFB have to say about all this?
Mercedes-Benz have started to investigate Özil’s allegations, but at this moment have neither confirmed nor denied that the player had been airbrushed from their marketing campaigns after his meeting with Erdoğan.
As for the matter of illegal software in Mercedes cars, Özil is guilty here of taking a story and spinning it out of all proportion. One can excuse him for not having a more specific knowledge of the subject, but once again his advisors do not appear to have taken the time to have provided him with accurate information.
Unlike the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal that is still rumbling on, the issue only concerns a small number of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The engines under investigation were not even manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, but Renault.
While it is true that the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Vehicle Office, KBA) have ordered Mercedes-Benz to recall a number of suspect vehicles, there is no actual risk to customers.
Before engaging in this pointless whataboutery, Özil had been more than happy to own a number of Mercedes-Benz vehicles. He has even been happy to park them illegally on the streets of London. If he feels that strongly about it, perhaps he should give away all of the expensive AMGs sitting in his garage.
Like many professional sportspeople, Özil has devoted a lot of time and money to charitable work. On that, he has to be commended.
As I said before, “partners” should stick with you in all situations. Adidas, Beats and Big Shoe have been extremely loyal and amazing to work with in this time. They rise above the nonsense created by the German press and media, and we carry out our projects in a professional manner that I really enjoy being part of.
During the World Cup, I worked with Big Shoe and helped get 23 young children life-changing surgeries in Russia, which I have also done previously in Brazil and Africa. This for me is the most important thing that I do as a football player, yet the newspapers find no space to raise awareness about this sort of thing.
For them, me being booed or taking a picture with a President is more significant then helping children get surgeries worldwide. They too have a platform to raise awareness and funds, but choose not to do so.
In a perfect world, “partners” will stick with you in all situations. But when one party creates a situation that creates a potential issue, even the closest partner may have to examine the impact and reevaluate the relationship. Adidas, Beats and Big Shoe were happy to stick with Özil; others were not. This is how business works.
In all fairness, newspapers tend not to report on nice things. Nice things generally do not generate headlines. It is true, and somewhat disappointing, that Özil’s charitable work has not been highlighted by the media. But the same thing can be said about other past and present German players who have been heavily involved in charitable work, such as Lukas Podolski, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels.
Act III: DFB
Act II can best be described as a series of waves of whataboutery, ending in a rather gentle lament. It is the calm before the storm that is Act III, where Özil well and truly lets rip. He fights and flails, before finally throwing himself onto the sacrificial pyre.
III / III pic.twitter.com/c8aTzYOhWU
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
Setting the record straight. Or not.
On 19th May, Özil and İlkay Gündoğan met with DFB president Reinhard Grindel, team manager Oliver Bierhoff and Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw in Berlin. This was the meeting that should have drawn a line under the issue. As far as Gündoğan was concerned, everything went to plan. Not so for Özil.
Arguably the issue that has frustrated me the most over the past couple of months has been the mistreatment from the DFB, and in particular the DFB President Reinhard Grindel. After my picture with President Erdogan I was asked by Joachim Low to cut short my holiday and go to Berlin and give a joint statement to end all the talk and set the record straight.
If Özil had looked to set the record straight, it was a complete disaster. Nobody knows the exact words that were exchanged in Berlin, and how Grindel had managed to “belittle” Özil’s opinion.
What we do know is that after the initial story broke five days earlier, the DFB had immediately made a statement condemning the actions of both players. Grindel had stated, unequivocally, that the association’s values were not compatible with those of the Turkish president. All pretty clear, one would have thought.
(1/2) Der #DFB respektiert und achtet selbstverständlich die besondere Situation unserer Spieler mit Migrationshintergrund. Aber der Fußball und der DFB stehen für Werte, die von Herrn Erdogan nicht hinreichend beachtet werden.
— Reinhard Grindel (@DFB_Praesident) May 14, 2018
It therefore followed that in order to “set the record straight”, both Özil and Gündoğan would have to align themselves with the DFB’s position. This, one assumes, was the mission of the meeting in Berlin.
Whilst I attempted to explain to Grindel 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.
If Özil’s “explanation” of the Erdoğan meeting was anything close to that presented in his three-act statement, it is hardly surprising that he was unable to make any headway. Clearly, Grindel and the DFB had been hoping for a concession, at the very least an acknowledgement. If Özil was unprepared to concede that his meeting with the Turkish president had been a mistake, there was never going to be any chance of a compromise.
As for Grindel “belittling” Özil’s opinion, this is clearly how the player has chosen to interpret the attempt by the DFB president to broker an agreement. While Gündoğan had been prepared to take something from the meeting and provide an explanation, Özil was not. An impasse had been reached.
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) May 19, 2018
One can visualise how things went, from the perspective of both parties. As far as Reinhard Grindel was concerned, he was putting the DFB’s values on the table, which Özil was unwilling to align himself with. As far as Özil was concerned, the DFB president was simply “speaking about his own political views”.
Whilst his [Grindel’s] actions were patronising, we came to agree that the best thing to do was to concentrate on football and the upcoming World Cup. This is why I did not attend the DFB media day during the World Cup preparations. I knew journalists discussing politics and not football would just attack me, even though the whole issue was deemed to be over by Oliver Bierhoff in a TV interview he did before the Saudi Arabia game in Leverkusen.
In the end, both parties agreed to disagree. This was only because Grindel, who had been prepared to drop Özil from the squad, had been forced to retreat by Löw and Bierhoff. The meeting had failed to fix the problem, but the solution was to provide an united front. By papering over the cracks. The official line was that the DFB had settled the issue, and this was the line that was spun to the German public. Probably against his better judgement, Grindel provided a statement to that effect.
The hope was that the problem would simply go away. It did not.
To most of those on the outside listening in, it was already apparent that Grindel and the DFB had fudged the issue. The official line was that everything had been cleared with both players, yet only Gündoğan had actually said anything. The silence from Özil on the other hand was deafening. To nobody’s great surprise, the media refused to let the matter drop.
Meeting the President
In looking the reduce the fallout after meeting the Turkish president, both players then met with their real President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. According to the Bundespräsident himself, it was Gündoğan’s idea. The meeting went well enough, but did not do much to fix the Erdoğan problem.
During this time, I also met with the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Unlike Grindel, President Steinmeier was professional and actually was interested in what I had to say about my family, my heritage and my decisions. I remember that the meeting was only between myself, Ilkay and President Steinmeier, with Grindel being upset that he wasn’t allowed inside to boost his own political agenda.
I agreed with President Steinmeier that we would release a joint statement about the matter, in another attempt to move toward and focus on football. But Grindel was upset that it wasn’t his team releasing the first statement, annoyed that Steinmeier’s press office had to take lead on this matter.
Things were not that straightforward. On seeing the photograph of the two players with Erdoğan, the German head of state had been “perplexed”. While generally being more sympathetic, Steinmeier had expressed surprise that they had not been more aware of the implications in meeting the controversial Turkish leader.
In an interview with Die Zeit, Steinmeier was unable to confirm that the players had offered an apology. As far as he was concerned, this was “a question of interpretation”.
Regardless of what was said, it did little to alter Özil’s position with the DFB. It was also easier for Steinmeier to adopt a more magnanimous position, as unlike Grindel he had nothing to lose. It was not the German president who was responsible for the football team.
As for Grindel being “annoyed” at being “excluded” from the meeting with President Steinmeier, we will only really know what happened if and when he provides his own side of the story. What is interesting here is that for all his not caring about politics, Özil seems to know quite a lot about the DFB president’s “political agenda”.
As he continues with his attack on Reinhard Grindel, Özil questions the DFB president’s competence, and his ability to do his job properly. The accusation of incompetence does have its merits, but for a completely different set of reasons.
Since the end of the World Cup, Grindel has come under much pressure regarding his decisions before the tournament started, and rightly so. Recently, he has publicly said I should once again explain my actions and puts me at fault for the poor team results in Russia, despite telling me it was over in Berlin.
I am speaking now not for Grindel, but because I want to. I will no longer stand for being a scapegoat for his incompetence and inability to do his job properly. I know that he wanted me out the team after the picture, and publicised his view on Twitter without any thinking or consultation, but Joachim Low and Oliver Bierhoff stood up for me and backed me.
I for one do not believe that Grindel ever intended to push the absurd idea that Özil was solely responsible for the team’s results in Russia, but that the imbroglio created by the Erdoğan meeting had not been sufficiently quelled. This in turn, had affected team morale. Rather than Özil being blamed for the team’s poor results, the chain of events he had set in motion had had a knock-on effect. It was the “Özil effect”, rather than Özil himself.
After the event, one can see Grindel scrambling desperately for excuses. His comments regarding Özil were clearly in the spirit of “I told you so”. This, of course, was highly unprofessional. Grindel had gone with the flow, and had rolled the dice. When things did not turn out how he wanted, he should have just kept quiet and taken it on the chin. Bierhoff, who had been first to raise his head above the parapet after the Russian fiasco, should have been instructed to do the same.
Rather than turn off the hob, Grindel and co simply chose to let things simmer. Meanwhile, the media were throwing more boiling oil into the pan. The result was a complete Kaiserschmarrn, with the DFB looking like a bunch of incompetent clowns. The “dead frog” had been put into a blender, and nobody was able to turn it off.
In hindsight, it might have made more sense for Grindel to put his foot down and overrule Löw and Bierhoff before the tournament. To nip things in the bud. Unlike Gündoğan, Özil had categorically failed to align himself with the DFB’s official position regarding Erdoğan. With all options exhausted, it would have made more sense for the association to cut their losses early.
One can only try to create a picture of what might have happened behind the scenes. Grindel on one side of the fence, demanding Özil’s exclusion. On the other, Joachim Löw, not wanting to drop one of his favourite players. Sitting in the middle, Oliver Bierhoff. Looking at the situation like this, it is far easier to understand Bierhoff’s initial statement after the tournament.
The man doth protest too much…
Having focused his ire on Reinhard Grindel, Özil now plunges headlong into a sea of hyperbole. Producing his own variation of a well-worn theme, he then ends up drowning in his own nonsense. His enemies are legion, though he has no real idea who they are.
In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose. This is because despite paying taxes in Germany, donating facilities to German schools and winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, I am still not accepted into society. I am treated as being “different”. I received the “Bambi Award” in 2010 as an example of successful integration to German society, I received a “Silver Laurel Leaf” in 2014 from the Federal Republic of Germany, and I was a “German Football Ambassador” in 2015. But clearly, I am not German…?
At no point has Grindel ever said, or even remotely suggested, such a thing. As for the DFB chief’s “supporters”, what does this mean? The association itself? Those who have a negative opinion of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Disgruntled supporters? Critical pundits? The fringes of the far right?
The “I am German when we win, an immigrant when I lose” line is as meaningless as it is hackneyed, but wonderfully thought out. It is a powerful and emotional one-liner, perfectly designed to set off the army of willing social justice warriors. Sound bite bait.
The majority of the criticism that was heaped on Özil had nothing directly to do with his background or heritage, but his bloody-minded and (as is turns out) unrepentant position regarding his meeting with the Turkish president. Was anything negative said about any of the other German players with migration backgrounds after the team’s early exist in Russia?
Özil had long been accepted into German society, and has been a firmly-established fan favourite since the turn of the last decade. Nobody, apart from a few shrill voices on the far right and dark corners of the internet, has ever suggested that he is anything but German. If he really feels that he is being treated differently, perhaps he should take a good hard look at himself.
Are there criteria for being fully German that I do not fit? 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? I think here lays an important issue. By being referred to as German-Turkish, it is already distinguishing people who have family from more than one country. I was born and educated in Germany, so why don’t people accept that I am German?
More whataboutery. Neither Podolski nor Klose have ever taken their Polishness beyond a very basic level. Muted celebrations. At the very most, professing a love for kiełbasa or home-made pierogi. Neither player has ever been seen with a controversial Polish politician (and there are quite a few of those around).
Is Özil’s Turkishness the problem? I would say not. Had he taken a photograph with a member of the Turkish opposition or the freed German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, he would have been lauded by the German media rather than condemned. Instead, he chose to stand cheek by jowl with a tyrant with not one jot of remorse.
Özil’s religious belief is also neither here nor there. Sami Khedira is also a Muslim, and somehow managed to avoid a similar media smear attack – despite being one of those players who also should never have made the starting lineup in Russia.
Descent into absurdity
If Özil’s attempt to include Reinhard Grindel as part of some nebulous antagonistic Lumpenmass is not bad enough, he goes even further down the absurdity hole by conflating the DFB president’s opinions with those that can only be described as disgusting.
Grindel’s opinions can be found elsewhere too. I was called by Bernd Holzhauer (a German politician) a “goat-f***er” because of my picture with President Erdogan and my Turkish background. Furthermore, Werner Steer (Chief of German Theatre) told me to “piss off to Anatolia”, a place in Turkey where many immigrants are based.
There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between Reinhard Grindel’s position and the vile abuse served up on social media by Bernd Holzhauer. In even suggesting that they are one and the same, Özil is treading on some dangerous ground. One could even argue that his accusation is blatantly libellous.
Werner Steer’s comment is nowhere near as bad, but is hardly fitting for somebody in his prestigious position.
As an aside, it is perhaps worth pointing out that Holzhauer is nowhere near as important as Özil makes him out to be in his statement. The politician is not a national figure, or even an MP, but a local councillor in the small town of Bebra in Hessen.
It should also be pointed out that Holzhauer is not even a representative of a right-wing party, but the local Social Democrats (SPD). Steer is also not the “Chief of German Theatre” (i.e. the chief of theatre in all of Germany), but the managing director of the Deutsches Theater in Munich, one of ten state and city theatres located in the Bavarian capital.
As I have said before, criticising and abusing me because of family ancestry is a disgraceful line to cross, and using discrimination as a tool for political propaganda is something that should immediately result In the resignation of those disrespectful individuals. These people have used my picture with President Erdogan as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies, and this is dangerous for society.
They are no better than the German fan who told me after the game against Sweden “Ozil, verpiss Dich Du scheiss Türkensau. Türkenschwein hau ab” or in English “Ozil, f**k off you Turkish s**t, p*** off you Turkish pig!”
There is little to argue with here. While it is perfectly reasonable to criticise and even ridicule Özil over his poor choice of photo friends, racial abuse of any kind goes well beyond the pale. To demand that Holzhauer and Steer step down from their posts is more than reasonable. As is banning racially abusive “fans”.
It needs to be reiterated, however, that these outrageous statements by these relatively minor figures have nothing whatsoever to do with either Reinhard Grindel or the DFB. It is obvious that Özil has an axe to grind, and clearly has no idea where or when to stop. The accusations are so outlandish that they can best be described as the product of a fertile imagination. A lurid fantasy. A fairy tale.
Digging for scraps
As Act III approaches its conclusion, the badly-aimed attacks and contradictions continue to roll in. Özil even resorts to digging for scraps.
I don’t want to even discuss the hate mail, threatening phone calls and comments on social media that my family and I have received. They all represent a Germany of the past, a Germany not open to new cultures, and a Germany that I am not proud of. I am confident that many proud Germans who embrace an open society would agree with me.
Nobody wants to see anybody receiving hate mail, threatening phone calls or racist comments. Likewise, nobody wants to see a return to the Germany of the past. The problem is that while Özil waxes lyrical about embracing an open society, he is more than happy to stand by his decision to be seen with a man who is on a mission to shut down the machinery of democracy in his own country.
Under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has become a far less open society. Opposition politicians have been silenced, journalists have been censored and imprisoned, and the established secular principles that have defined modern Turkey have been slowly wound back and replaced with creeping Islamism. But hey, let’s smile and give him a signed shirt.
The contradiction is blindingly obvious, yet Özil is unable to see it. Or maybe he can. Maybe he is less naive, and far more cynical, than we would all like to believe.
To you, Reinhard Grindel, I am disappointed but not surprised by your actions. In 2004 whilst you were a German member of Parliament, you claimed that “multiculturalism is in reality a myth [and] a lifelong lie” whilst you voted against legislation for dual-nationalities and punishments for bribery, as well as saying that Islamic culture has become too ingrained in many German cities. This is unforgivable and unforgettable.
If digging out a small quote from 2004 is the best Özil and his researchers can find, it is a sure sign that they have way too much time on their hands. It is a desperately low blow, and one that can easily be countered. In 2004, such a statement about multiculturalism was not massively outré. As late as 2010, Angela Merkel was talking about it having failed in Germany. This was not Grindel being a lone wolf “racist”, but a centre-right politician who was simply reflecting the position of his party and its leadership.
As for the accusation of Grindel and the DFB being “racist”, it is difficult to sit this alongside the Reinhard Grindel who was quick to rally around Jérôme Boateng, after the defender had been subjected to insults from AfD vice-chairman Alexander Gauland in 2016.
No sooner had Gauland suggested that Boateng would not be an ideal neighbour – or words to that effect – Grindel and the DFB immediately delivered a firm response. So much so that the then leader of the AfD, Frauke Petry, stepped just as quickly up to offer an apology.
Was this the same “racist” Reinhard Grindel who had somehow “belittled” Özil’s Turksh heritage? Were those “racist” German fans who had booed and heckled Özil and Gündoğan the same people who had decked the ground with banners to express their solidarity with Boateng just two years before?
As far as Grindel’s 2004 statement is concerned, it was in line with the thinking at the time. It is perhaps even more relevant today. While Germany does have to face the reality of being a multicultural country, it should not prevent those who may be critical from asking questions.
One can be sceptical of multiculturalism without pandering to right-wing extremism. Likewise, one should also be able to present a critical opinion, without being described as a racist.
In the spirit of grand opera, there is one last desperate swipe of the sword before our tragic hero finally takes the final leap of self-sacrifice.
The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten. People with racially discriminative backgrounds should not be allowed to work in the largest football federation in the world that has many players from dual-heritage families. Attitudes like theirs simply do not reflect the players they supposedly represent.
Apart from the DFB backing down and happily acknowledging the Erdoğan meeting, it is hard to see how they could have dealt with the situation in any way where Özil would have been happy. For this, an association that has been at the forefront of efforts integrate German society is essentially described as a racist organisation. Özil’s words may not say as much, but this clearly is his intention.
The player feels “unwanted”, yet fails to accept any responsibility whatsoever for his own actions. For him, there was no problem meeting Erdoğan. He was “connecting with his roots”, after all. As far as he sees it, there was and is nothing to address or apologise for, or even explain. He would even do it again, knowing how things turned out. Yet somehow, the DFB is supposed to suck it up.
These are the actions of a self-entitled child who, when not getting his own way, decides to turn around and cry foul. Such sentiments have been shared by former international Cacau, who is now the commissioner for integration with the DFB. As a Brazilian who worked hard to acquire German nationality before winning 23 caps for the Nationalmannschaft, he should have some idea what he is talking about.
By suggesting that Grindel (and perhaps others inside the DFB, such as Cacau) are from “racially discriminative backgrounds”, Özil is not only painting himself as a selfish fool, but potentially threatening to undo all of the association’s progress in working with minority communities and developing players of dual heritage. There are many players of dual heritage in Germany’s youth squads, and it is my hope that Özil’s self-entitled bleating will not have any effect on their desire to play for Germany, nor the DFB’s desire to select them.
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. I used to wear the German shirt with such pride and excitement, but now I don’t. This decision has been extremely difficult to make because I have always given everything for my teammates, the coaching staff and the good people of Germany. But when high-ranking DFB ofﬁcials treat me as they did, disrespect my Turkish roots and selfishly turn me into political propaganda, then enough is enough. That is not why I play football, and I will not sit back and do nothing about it.
After all of the rambling drama, accusations and whataboutery, Özil gets to the point. It is clearly too much to continue playing for an association that cannot be made to accept Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and far too painful to play for fans whose motivations he cannot understand. Nobody disrespected Özil’s Turkish roots. As for his being turned into political propaganda, he did that himself.
Racism should never, ever be accepted.
There is no disagreement here. Racism has no place in civilised society, let alone in something that should bring people together. But then, nobody has ever suggested that it should be accepted. It is yet another straw man.
Özil claims that he has been made a scapegoat for Germany’s failure in Russia. Yet there is no concrete evidence to support this allegation. Yes, Oliver Bierhoff mentioned him in his initial post-tournament statement, and Reinhard Grindel was forceful in demanding an explanation for Erdogate. But at no point did anybody inside the DFB specifically point the finger at Özil for the team’s collective inability to get things right on the pitch in Russia.
The allegation is absurd, in that one has to be an idiot to blame one player for the failure of 22 others, as well as the coach, assistants and backroom staff. One might as well place all of the responsibility on the catering staff. In swallowing this claim, many commentators have failed to notice just how ridiculous it actually is.
Nobody can possibly blame Özil for what happened on the pitch. If just to reinforce this point, he only played in two of the three matches. In one of those, he was – statistically at least – one of the better contributors.
In a previous article, I presented a number of theories that could go some way to explaining how and why the Nationalmannschaft managed to experience its worst World Cup campaign in eighty years. A champion team resting on their laurels, the hunter becoming the hunted. Poor squad and team selections. The coach sticking with his favourites. A lack of strong and decisive leadership on the pitch. Outmoded tactics. The simple fact that the opposition may just have done their homework.
The Özil effect
Then, there is the matter of morale.
Perhaps it wasn’t Mesut Özil the footballer who was to blame, but the situation created by Mesut Özil the person. A situation that the DFB had hoped would go away, but didn’t. A spider that kept scuttling about despite numerous attempts to usher it under the proverbial carpet. A situation that then reared its ugly head in the wake of the team’s early return home, when everybody was desperately looking for an excuse.
Morale is a very complex thing, and it is clear that Vatutinki in 2018 was as dire as Campo Bahia in 2014 was wonderful. Maintaining morale and building camaraderie is both a skill and a science, and even then that may not be enough. This is where it all went wrong.
Without being privy to the many discussions that may have taken place between the coach, support staff and the players, it is difficult to say just how badly the fallout from the Erdoğan situation may have affected the morale of the squad.
In his post-tournament statement, Bierhoff stated that the DFB management had “never forced national team players to do anything… We’ve always tried to convince them instead. We didn’t succeed with Mesut.”
Tried to convince him of what? Didn’t succeed with what? It was not a sporting issue, so it clearly had to do with the player’s intransigence, and his unwillingness to clear the air about his private powwow with Erdoğan. This was in stark contrast to İlkay Gündoğan, who not only responded, but also initiated the meeting with German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
One can imagine how Erdogate, and Özil’s unwillingness to alter his position, might have become a contentious issue for other members of the squad. All it would have needed was just one other player with a less favourable opinion of the Turkish dictator.
Cliques and conflicts
Managing 23 young men in an enclosed compound far away from home is not an easy task, and when one or more of them are not towing the line it can create a problem. Petty differences escalate. Conflicts occur, and cliques start forming. Deciding whether to play a board or video game (even at 4am) is one thing. Possible political differences are of a completely different order. It is the sort of thing that can kill a tournament campaign, and in Russia it probably did.
Unless we are provided with candid confessions from the players, which is highly unlikely, we will never know how the two cliques came about. How it all started, and how things developed. More often than not, these things require a catalyst. Did the fracture in the squad occur as a result of Erdogate? Did it continue to crumble away from there, while the coach and the administrators were desperately trying to keep things together?
What is noticeable is that only three current players have offered public support to Özil after his recent announcement. Two of those, Jérôme Boateng and Julian Draxler, were members of the so-called “Bling-Bling” group.
From the rest of the squad, there has been tumbleweed. Even those who had been part of the winning Euro Under-21 tournament in 2009 with Özil. Neuer. Hummels. Khedira. Perhaps they are all enjoying their holidays, and have no time for messing about on social media when the beach is calling. Perhaps they have nothing to say. It may well be that they do not want to say anything, for fear of appearing hypocritical.
Based on the statements and all of the available evidence, it is my contention that the Erdoğan affair, and Mesut Özil’s unwillingness to shift from his position (a position reiterated pretty bluntly and without apology in his statement), created a massive morale problem. The presence of one player, whose presence and attitude created an atmosphere so poisonous that it infected the team on the pitch as well as off it.
This was clearly what Oliver Bierhoff was alluding to in his first post-tournament statement. Perhaps this was also why Reinhard Grindel was so insistent that Özil should step up and say something. Neither was blaming Özil for what happened on the pitch, but for his role, deliberate or otherwise, in disrupting the squad dynamic.
It has been said Grindel had been in favour of ditching Özil, and had been persuaded by both Bierhoff and Jogi Löw to keep the playmaker in the squad. Bierhoff clearly regretted not taking this course of action, and his frank admission would spark the “scapegoat” debate. Up against both the team manager and the coach, Grindel knew that it would be difficult to put his foot down.
For Özil to be dropped, the management would have to have been unanimous in their decision. In the end, they decided to run with it. As one of Özil’s biggest supporters, Löw would have been completely on board. Bierhoff was probably rolling the dice, hoping that it would work out in the end. After all, things had always worked out before. Grindel, on the other hand, probably felt forced into it. He had made a clear statement about Erdoğan, but had been forced to accept the situation that was clearly unsatisfactory to him. It probably explains some his post-tournament comments regarding Özil, and a general pig-headedness that has come across as unprofessional.
In the end, it was a gamble that failed. Like any regretful punter who only realises what he has done after the money has been lost, the “what I should have said and done” moment only came out after the event. As to how much Erdogate actually affected the squad, we may never really know.
In the discussions that have taken place since Özil’s statement, his defenders have been consistent in arguing that the player had been continually penalised and vilified for making a “mistake”, an “error of judgement”, or suchlike. The problem is that when somebody does make a mistake, they usually acknowledge it.
The racism debate
It has been suggested that by even asking Mesut Özil to align himself with the DFB’s core values, Reinhard Grindel and the association were by definition racist. These claims are tenuous at best.
Let us twist things a little here. What would have happened if a player with Hungarian roots had sidled up to Viktor Orbán during an election campaign? If the DFB had demanded a similar statement and had asked the player to reaffirm his commitment to the association’s values, would there have been a similar outcry from the left and the Twitterati?
I seriously doubt it. In fact, it is likely that things would have moved in the opposite direction. The DFB would have been backed up by the left, and the player would have been unceremoniously drummed out of the squad, town and beyond.
Racism is real. It is out there. But sometimes, a political disagreement is not always about race. It is just a political disagreement. Özil remains unrepentant about his meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He has said, without reservation, that he would do the exact same thing again. He has spoken to Erdoğan after making his statement, and has been praised by the Turkish president for his “national and native” stance.
Just let that sink in.
The Erdoğan-Özil Relationship
The relationship between Mesut Özil and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is crucial in trying to build an understanding of what might have been going on behind the scenes. The player had been meeting the Turkish politician since at least 2010, and there are plenty of other photographs to prove this. The smiles and shirt-swapping did not start in London in May 2018.
Commentators from both sides of the debate have used these images to buttress their arguments. On the one hand, Özil had been had cahoots with Erdoğan for almost a decade, so there was clearly more to it that just a naive photocall. On the other, if he had been photographed with Erdoğan many times before, what was the big deal about the most recent meeting?
The answer lies in Erdoğan’s own political journey, and Özil’s role as a fellow traveller.
In 2010, Erdoğan was not the president of Turkey. He was Prime Minister, having been elected to office in 2003 after serving four years as the mayor of İstanbul between 1994 and 1998. In 2010, he had been seen by many as something of a reformer. With Turkey looking to join the European Union, Erdoğan had sought to cultivate good relationships with European countries. With its large Turkish population, Germany was seen as a natural ally.
At the time, there were no issues between the two countries. Angela Merkel was happy to meet with Erdoğan, and any meetings between Mesut Özil and the Turkish premier would not have raised many eyebrows.
In 2014, Erdoğan replaced Abdullah Gül as the President of Turkey. He almost immediately set about tightening his grip on power. Democratic institutions were compromised, freedom of speech was slowly shut down, and critical journalists were either censored or imprisoned. Following the refugee crisis of 2015, the already shaky relationship between the Turkish leader and the EU deteriorated even further.
Tool, or fool?
At this stage, the danger signs were clear. In 2010, Germany and Turkey had essentially been heading in the same direction. By 2016, the points had been switched. Both countries were now on diverging tracks. If Mesut Özil and his advisors had any sense, they would have stayed on the German track. Instead, they continued to follow the Erdoğan train.
For most of Europe, Erdoğan was simply an unsavoury politician with tyrannical intent. In Germany, there was a second layer to this. With many of the Turkish population in Germany holding dual nationality, they were eligible to vote in the Turkish elections. Erdoğan’s campaign was taken onto German streets, and when German officials took umbrage to this, they were accused of using “Nazi methods”. This, for many in Germany, was the last straw.
Yet still, Mesut Özil remained tethered to Erdoğan. In 2010, this had not been a problem. Not so in 2018. There are only two real explanations for Özil’s decision-making. Either he was a genuine friend and follower of Erdoğan, or had been politically naive. Essentially, a tool or a fool.
When the shit hit the fan on May 14th 2018, Özil probably felt that he had no place to go. Or rather, he had decided on his path and had chosen to stick to it. A bridge back across to the German track had been offered, but it is now clear that he chose not to take it. Perhaps he felt that he had more to lose by alienating his friend Recep Tayyip than by tying himself to the German mast.
Some people, such as Uli Hoeneß, have tried to turn the Erdogate incident into a sporting matter. A cursory analysis of the statistics suggest that this is simply not the case. Others meanwhile have turned it into a racial matter, peddling the line that Reinhard Grindel, and by extension the DFB and even Germany as a whole, were on some masochistically mind-boggling mission to hound the player out of the team.
The problem was neither sporting nor racial. It was a political issue that was fudged and distorted, before spinning completely out of everybody’s control. The DFB fudged it by not taking decisive action. Özil then distorted it by hiding behind the smokescreen of racism.
Who is responsible?
In a press release following Özil’s statement, the DFB acknowledged that mistakes had been made. They accepted that Mesut Özil had not been provided with sufficient protection, but at the same time stood firm regarding his photograph with Erdoğan and the need for an explanation.
Both Özil and Gündoğan had lit the blue touchpaper, and Özil had allowed the flame to keep burning. There is no denying that if the Erdoğan meeting had never taken place, this story would never have turned into the monster it has become. For their part, Reinhard Grindel and the DFB completely mismanaged the situation. In trying to brush the problem under the carpet, they ended up misreading public opinion. It was a toxic mix of stupidity and incompetence.
In trying to get an accurate handle on who was responsible for the problem, where you look for your information is crucial. On Twitter, there has been wide and largely unconditional support for Özil. This is because the vast majority of mainstream football writers, for some reason or another, feel obliged to follow some left/liberal agenda.
Among German supporters, however, I found a far more balanced set of opinions. People were more amenable to a more critical position on Erdogate, with a good number agreeing that it may have been a better idea to drop Özil after the first attempt by the DFB to winkle out an apology had failed. Many of these people also agreed that the DFB had been guilty of serial incompetence.
This view was largely shared by the German public. In a poll conducted by state broadcaster ARD, 47% of the 1047 people interviewed said that there was a shared responsibility between Özil and the DFB. 29% placed the burden of responsibility on the player, while only 14% pointed the finger at the DFB.
29% say Mesut #Özil
14% say the DFB
47% say both
— Joscha Weber (@joschaweber) July 27, 2018
Of course, there is no doubt that some people will use these numbers to suggest that the “old Germany” is lurking around the corner.
The way forward
There are two obvious ways this can go. Either it will turn into a series of navel-gazing exercises and unnecessary self-examination, or a line can be drawn under the affair. The DFB should be looking at its role in this summer’s fiasco, and should look seriously as its own incompetence. However, the association is not in any sort of crisis.
In looking to draw a line under the affair, Reinhard Grindel should also do the honourable thing and resign. While the accusations of racism are baseless, there is no escaping the fact that one of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of the DFB happened on his watch. The association’s crisis management was shambolic, and this alone should make Grindel’s position untenable.
Özil may have burned his bridges, but İlkay Gündoğan is still there. The DFB need to make it absolutely clear that any further victimisation will not be tolerated. While the booing in the immediate wake of the Erdoğan photo story was understandable, there is no further justification for it.
Gündoğan is a talented young player, and should be allowed to get on with the business of playing football. He has served his penance.
As for Özil, it is a sad end to a fine international career. At times, he was frustrating to watch. He often made you want to pull your hair out. On other occasions, he was simply magical. Everybody will have their memorable Özil moment. For me, it was his stunning winner in 2010 against Ghana.
Özil was, and remains, an enigma. One always felt that it would end this way. While the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski had memorable sendoffs, there was a sense that things would not end the same way for Özil. Maybe it is all for the best.