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Mesut Özil quits Germany over Erdogan controversy

July 22, 2018

Footballer Mesut Özil has quit the national team amid the fallout from meeting Turkey's president and Germany's World Cup exit. In a strongly worded statement, Özil said he would "no longer stand for being a scapegoat."

FIFA Fußball-WM 2018 in Russland | Mesut Özil, Deutschland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Ulmer Pressebildagentur/M. Ulmer

Mesut Özil said on Sunday he will no longer play international football for Germany following the fallout from his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 29-year-old issued three lengthy and hard-hitting statements via Twitter , in which he singled out German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel. Özil said he would "no longer stand for being a scapegoat for [Grindel's] incompetence and inability to do his job properly.

"In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," he added.

Özil's shock retirement: DW's Pablo Foley Elias

"I feel unwanted and think that what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.

"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'."

No regrets

Özil and international teammate Ilkay Gündogan's meeting with the hard-line Turkish leader caused a stir before the World Cup, but Özil said he had no regrets.

"Whatever the outcome would've been in this previous election, or the election before that, I would still have taken the picture."

Read more: Mesut Özil: The answer is in his silence

In a second tweet, sent two hours later, Özil took aim at the treatment dished out to him by the German media, who he accuses of having double standards based on his Turkish heritage. To emphasize his point, Özil mentioned Lothar Matthäus, an honorary Germany captain who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany. Matthäus met with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently and, according to Özil, received "almost no media criticism."

Read more: Opinion: The DFB is responsible for Germany's failings, not Özil

"What I can't accept," Özil wrote, "are German media outlets repeatedly blaming my dual-heritage and a simple picture for a bad World Cup on behalf of an entire squad.

"They didn't criticize my performances, they didn't criticize the team's performances, they just criticized 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." 

Targeted on social media

The Arsenal midfielder also took aim at the DFB (German football association) for its treatment of the Matthäus situation and the cancellation of promotional activites with Özil following the publishing of the photograph.

Erdogan mit Özil (picture-alliance/dpa/Uncredited/Presdential Press Service)
Mesut Özil hands a shirt over to Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting on May 13Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Presidential Press Service

The player's words come more than two months after the photos were taken, a delay that has also attracted some ire. While Gündogan quickly made a statement explaining his position, discussing the effect that the reaction from fans and the media had on him and rejecting many of the accusations leveled at him and Özil as "100 percent untrue," Özil chose to stay silent on the issue throughout the World Cup.

Germany's tame exit increased the spotlight on Özil, while far-right groups such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party and their supporters targeted the playmaker on social media.

He was then singled out by Germany's team manager Oliver Bierhoff, who said coach Joachim Löw should have considered leaving Özil out of the squad, and DFB President Reinhard Grindel, as the fallout from the World Cup took an unexpected turn.

Özil, like Gündogan before him, pointed out that he felt a loyalty to both Germany and Turkey.

WM2018 - Südkorea - Deutschland: Oliver Bierhof und Mesut Oezil
Germany team manager Oliver Bierhoff has questioned how the affair was handledImage: picture-alliance/ULMER/M. Ulmer

"Whilst I grew up in Germany, my family background has its roots firmly based in Turkey," Özil wrote. "I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish."

He went on to criticize the reaction, which has put him at the center of a debate on integration in Germany.

Read more: Opinion: Özil's anger justified, now Grindel must face the music

"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 have been proud of where I am today," he said, before stating that the meeting "wasn't about politics or elections," and should not be seen as an endorsement of Erdogan's policies.

Özil, who has won 92 caps for Germany, will soon head to Singapore with Arsenal before potentially meeting Gündogan when the London club clash with Manchester City in the opening weekend of the Premier League on August 12.