The 2014 World Cup winner has always had his glittering career overshadowed by politics and the media.
Late on the night of the 22nd of July 2018, Germany’s favorite Turkish export Mesut Ozil opened up to the world about the incident and behaviour that had led to his sudden retirement from the German national team, sending the football world into a spiral over the unexpected turn of events.
Behind the glitz and glamor of the Santiago Bernabeu, the Emirates, and the Allianz Arena, there is so much more to the story of the 29-year-old than meets the eye. Ozil’s family moved to the town of Bismark in the Stendal district in Northern Germany when his grandfather took up work as a gastarbeiter (migrant labourer). The area is littered with shutdown stores and “ape-cages.” These cages are where a young Mesut Ozil learned his trade the hard way.
Watch: Racism in football history
Despite the torn shoes held together with tape and the poverty and suffering that surrounded him, the young boy with a fire in his eyes danced his way to the highest of heights. Ozil started his career at Schalke 04 before lighting things up at Werder Bremen. It wasn’t too long before a spell in the Spanish capital came calling.
Ozil made his first appearance for the national side in 2009 before scoring his first international goal in his third game. The youngster’s impressive performances in the Bundesliga led to a call-up to the national squad for the FIFA World Cup of 2010, in South Africa. The midfielder was the creative drive behind his side’s push to the semi-finals of the competition.
However, despite his performances on the pitch, different sections of the media took their chance to focus on his heritage and make the player the catalyst for a political scandal, going against everything the Beautiful Game stands for. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, saw his Turkish roots as a PR dream while the National Democratic Party of Germany labeled him a “Fake German – artificial, manufactured and fake”.
The sad reality is that this bias and racism has only grown and had an effect on the lives and careers of the batch of Germany’s “Mult-kulti” players like Ozil. Following his heroics at the 2010 World Cup and his Golden Ball nomination, Ozil was called up to the Euro 2012 squad, a competition in which he earned the award for the Player of the Tournament, finishing with the most number of assists.
Ozil’s and Germany’s international story would hit its peak in the summer of 2014 at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The then Real Madrid man led his country with eight goals in qualifying and carried on his form to the tournament, where he scored crucial goals and dazzled audiences with his touches and passes.
It was in the period from 2014 to the 2018 World Cup, that his relationship with the DFB truly turned sour. His move to Arsenal in the Premier League saw its honeymoon period relatively short-lived. As his performances on the pitch took a dip, it was seen as an opportunity for the media to project him as “Mesut Ozil the immigrant,” rather than, “Mesut Ozil the footballer.”
In May of 2018, Ozil and his German teammate Ilkay Gundogan, who is also of Turkish descent, posed for photos with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had very publicly shown his hatred for Germany on several occasions and also has several human rights violations alleged against him.
The Germans followed the trend of the champions crashing out in the group stages, leaving the competition following losses to Mexico and South Korea. Following the exit from the World Cup, Ozil clarified that the pictures were simply a sign of respect to the highest power in the country of his roots and not anti-German propaganda, contrary to the stories being spread by certain right-wing media outlets. The 29-year-old revealed that the issue of his devotion to his country had stemmed from his discussions with the President of the DFB, Reinhard Grindel.
In a heartfelt letter to the public, Ozil announced his retirement from the international stage in protest against people with “racially discriminative backgrounds” working in the federation. The little Turkish German Muslim kid who had mesmerized the world with his feet had had enough.
The picture of the 29-year-old walking off the pitch with his head hung low, with the German shirt hanging heavy on his shoulders is a representation of exactly what football is not meant to be. The game gives homes to the homeless and Ozil has just lost his.