Veteran midfielder Mesut Ozil announced his retirement from the German national team on Sunday, and he did his best to shake the very foundation of the country’s soccer federation in the process.
Less than a month after Germany’s embarrassing exit in group play from the 2018 World Cup, the squad’s second-most capped player tweeted he would no longer be suiting up for the national team. Ozil, who has played for Premier League club Arsenal since 2013, will retire at 29 years old with a 2014 World Cup win, 92 appearances and 23 international goals under his belt.
To announce his decision, Ozil tweeted a lengthy and devastating statement that spanned multiple pages. In the third tweet, Ozil laid the reason for his retirement squarely at the feet of German soccer federation president Reinhard Grindel and others who criticized a meeting and photo with Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the heart of Ozil’s comments is the fact that he is perceived by Grindel and company, during victory and during defeat. Ozil is a third generation Turkish-German who was born in Germany to German-born parents, grew up in Germany and played for teams in Germany until he was purchased by Real Madrid in 2010. He is also a practicing Muslim.
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 … ?
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?
Ozil also cited statements from multiple German politicians, racist taunts from fans and a massive amount of hate mail as examples of the hostile climate he and his family faced that led to his decision.
And it seems that Ozil’s line about being seen as German when the team wins and an immigrant when it loses is not a new phenomenon. Multiple European stars of foreign descent have described a similar feeling in the past.
Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s leading scorer during the World Cup, wrote in a Player’s Tribune article last month,
“When things were going well, I was reading newspapers articles and they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker. When things weren’t going well, they were calling me Romelu Lukaku, the Belgian striker of Congolese
French striker Karim Benzema put it more succinctly in 2011, saying
“If I score I’m French … if I don’t, I’m an Arab.”