Should Ozil have spoken out after Germany football controversy?
As an Arsenal fan, I get to watch Mesut Ozil regularly and I have to admit, his somewhat languid style often gives the impression that he is not fighting as hard as he might for the team.
Reviewing the statistics after most games paint a picture of someone who runs around more than most, creates more chances and has a greater influence than may at first appear. The absence of short sprints and fist pumping conceals Ozil’s deeper commitment.
When Germany went out in the Group stages of the World Cup for the first time since 1938, criticism seemed to focus on Ozil, which was compounded by his pre-tournament meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which had prompted questions about his loyalty to the German team.
No matter that he has almost 100 caps, he helped Germany win the World Cup in 2014, that he has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world and been voted Germany player of the year five times, three of which since 2014.
Erdogan is a controversial figure and the photo was ill-advised even though snubbing a head of state such as the Turkey President would be extremely sensitive, let alone for a high-profile footballer.
Yet he is still a global star and a role model for millions and the line between an innocent photo opportunity and political propaganda is extremely thin and his meeting with Erdogan made him an easy target.
Fans, media and sports administrators alike were quick to lambast Ozil as the main reason why Germany were eliminated and after weeks of one-way criticism, Ozil released a long and exhaustive statement defending himself against a litany of criticisms, which was absolutely the right approach.
Ozil is not a regular post-match interviewee and his English is not perfect, which it would need to be if he was to do a press conference or one-on-one interview with a reputable media outlet.
Anything that could be misinterpreted could be extremely damaging, especially when voicing strong opinions about the social and political landscape in Germany, the conduct of sponsors and sports administrators.
Even after releasing his statement, Ozil received more criticism with Bayern Munich President Uli Hoeness, well-acquainted himself with controversy after a spell in prison for tax evasion, castigating Ozil’s performances and missing the point that this was about discrimination in Germany rather than team or individual performances.
Within his statement, Ozil makes a number of strong comments, declaring that he has “two hearts, one German, one Turkish” and that his meeting with President Erdogan was about respecting his family’s country rather than displaying any political persuasion.
As one of the most famous sportsmen in the world and of Turkish origin, wouldn’t it be unusual if the home of his forefathers did not celebrate him?
Pointing out that not only German Chancellor Merkel but also HRH the Queen and Theresa May have met President Erdogan (the latter two during the same visit by President Erdogan) put his meeting in some context as well.
Ozil made it clear that he has no problem with people judging him for his football abilities, but the level of criticism goes far deeper than simply about his on-field displays.
“I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil added, and it’s hard to argue with that when there has been such vitriol against him from various factions including Reinhard Grindel, the president of the DFB (German Football Federation), who has a history of comments unsupportive of a multi-cultural society in Germany.
Ozil was not saying, remember, that Germany is a racist country or that everyone at the DFB is prejudiced, but it is clearly an issue which needs to be addressed.
The playmaker makes the point that he does a lot for charity, pays taxes in Germany and yet is still treated as an outsider, used as a scapegoat simply because of his dual heritage and subject to political criticism and hate mail.
The German Football Federation put out their own statement in which they “emphatically reject the DFB being linked to racism. The DFB has been very involved in integration work in Germany for many years.” But does that go far enough?
The fact that Ozil has made himself unavailable for the German national team until the culture and leadership changes at the DFB may have no impact.
But Ozil makes his points delicately and with his huge follower-base on social media, he leaves the DFB unable to ignore the issue if they are to restore their own credibility.
Football is a global game, it is only four years since Germany won the World Cup and what sort of message would it send out to young fans and players across the country and beyond if they sat back and do nothing?
It would be remiss for the German authorities not to at least review the culture that led to this situation and address it, using this sad chapter as a springboard to improve their own administration and leadership.
As it stands, Germany have lost the services of one of their more talented players and, in a world where intolerance and prejudice is starting to rear its ugly head once more, the bullies will feel that they have won.