Why Mesut Özil did the right thing by retiring from international football
Mesut Özil has had enough. For good.
During the past weekend, the Arsenal attacking midfielder decided to retire from the Germany national team amid racism accusations and several critiques against him. Özil took to social media to talk about his discomfort, the media criticism that surrounded him and his retirement from the international setup “as long as he feels racism towards him”. But things are deeper than that.
Everything started when Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German football association (DFB) demanded a public statement from Özil regarding the playmaker’s pre-World Cup meeting with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As most should know, Özil’s parents come from Turkey and he has strong roots in the European-Asian country. And that was the trigger that pushed Özil to leave the team for good.
On Sunday, Grindel received what he asked for. But it was not what he was expecting. Perhaps he wanted an apology from Özil, but instead, the former Real Madrid star said he didn’t want to return to the national team anymore. And while many considered this an out-of-nowhere reaction, Özil was right on saying everything he said. He even attacked Grindel – both directly and indirectly – while claiming he no longer wanted to be a scapegoat for the team’s failures.
That last point has huge value; mostly because it is quite true. And it has been the case relating to Özil ever since his Real Madrid days. Most times, when the Germany national team won, Özil was “the best German attacking midfielder”, but when the team lost, he was just another Turkey-descendent who came to play with Die Mannschaft. This happened after the World Cup exit, too, and Özil decided he had enough.
Fans and pundits are partly to blame, too. Let’s remember fans booed Özil during a pre-tournament friendly in Austria when Germany lost 1-2 against their neighbours. But instead of talking about how Manuel Neuer shouldn’t have been the starter in that game, instead, most were talking about Özil’s “lack of desire and competitiveness”.
When he didn’t sing the anthem while playing in the World Cup, German commentators were quick to highlight that point. But when he didn’t play against Sweden, some said: “all 11 starting players are singing the anthem”. Put yourself in Özil’s shoes. How should that feel? It is as if everyone was looking at the most minimal thing to criticise him.
Real Madrid and Arsenal Football Club have also criticized Özil for his lack of pace and an apparent poor misdemeanour when playing, but fans should understand that this is who the Turkish-born-German is.
Even politicians went hard at Özil. Once, a prominent politician called the attacking midfielder a “goat-f***er” in a direct reference to his Turkish ancestry. Things like that should never be tolerated in football and just like people jump quickly and criticise when African players are targets or racism, these situations should be as offensive. And people should condemn them equally.
“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 wrote. "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. Racism should never, ever be accepted.”, the attacking midfielder claimed.
Last but not least, the best scenario on why Özil is the scapegoat lies in the same German squad that has been playing lately. Shkodran Mustafi is Muslim, yet no one says anything about that. Antonio Rudiger, Leroy Sane and Jerome Boateng all have dark skin, don’t they? Same result. And what about Emre Can’s and Ilkay Gundongan’s Turkish roots? Or Mario Gomez’s Hispanic ones? Why does everyone kept criticising Özil, yet saying next to nothing regarding the other players who share their same lineage at times? That’s simply unacceptable.
The 29-year-old Arsenal star leaves the German national team having won 93 caps and scoring 23 times. But most importantly, he leaves the side having no choice but to retire from international football. Die Mannschaft made wrong choices during the World Cup, but the biggest one – and the one they will be regretting the most – will be to let Özil go just like that.
After all, why would he want to play for a country that never respected him in the first place? Some might agree with him and others not, but one thing is certain: Özil made the right choice based on everything that happened to him over these past few years.