Arsenal has excluded playmaker Mesut Özil from their 25 Man Premier League squad confirming North London club’s stance of freezing him out of the squad with particularly the reason being Özil publicly criticizing the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province adversely affecting Arsenal’s commercial interests in China while some football experts are even of the opinion that the attacking midfielder has certainly let his high standards slip a little towards the end of Arsene Wenger reign followed by his struggle to perform at the top level under Unai Emery reign.
Despite being a World Cup winner with over 250 appearances for the Gunners, the playmaker has tumbled down the pecking order in North London. Özil recently signed a new contract with this season being probably his final season at Arsenal.
Mesut Özil hit back at Arsenal management by accusing them of ‘lacking loyalty and allegiance’ to the club legend in a statement issued in response to Arsenal’s decision.
The club brought offers from clubs playing in the USA, China and Saudi Arabia to eliminate wages amounting to € 400,000/week off the books. Özil, out of love and respect for the club, decided to stay back and honour his contract along with offering to cover wages of club’s mascot Gunnersaurus who, the club in response to COVID-19 measures has been sacked by the club. Mesut Özil has in recent times been in the news for reasons unrelated to football such as meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan along with announcing retirement from international football at the relatively young age of 29, citing racism as the main reason by tweeting ‘If we win, I’m German. If we lose, I’m an immigrant’, sending the entire football world into shockwaves.
The German team has been extremely multicultural with more than half of 2010 World Cup team players had at least one parent being an immigrant to the German nation. German football is not new to racism allegations particularly far-right NPD attack on Patrick Owomoyela by issuing a pamphlet displaying a German jersey with the caption ‘White. Not just a shirt colour! For a truly national team!” The football shirt had Owomoyela’s number, ‘25’, on it. This decade saw Mesut Özil falling from grace right from being German player of the year for 5 times to being dropped from crucial games along with now being forced into retirement. He was being blamed for the German team’s failure to win at the International stage and was being called a Turkish pig by the Far Right.
Özil represented something that the board and his racist critics could not stand, since he embraced his Turkish and Muslim heritage (through posing with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and reciting Quran prayers whilst the anthem played), instead of renouncing it, as they would have him do. The reality is that as someone who is mixed race, you are always made to choose, with repercussions on both sides if you are seen to favour one side too much. Özil found himself unable to choose, saying he has “two hearts, one German and one Turkish”, a noticeably similar phrase to that Lukas Podolski used in a 2012 interview with a Polish journalist: “there are two hearts beating inside me”.
Özil posing with Erdoğan was a mistake, as it allowed him to be used as a political pawn and legitimised a dictator. German relations with Turkey have suffered in recent years due to the imprisonment of a now-released German journalist without trial in the country for a year. Lothar Matthäus, a World Cup winner- just like Özil, but crucially he is not from a recent immigrant background- took photos with repressive Russian president Vladimir Putin without criticism from the same parties that were so quick to attack Özil.
No lack of political judgement can ever justify the racist abuse he has received. Not to forget, we are talking about a man who is renowned for his charity work and who donated his World Cup prize bonus to support the surgery of 23 sick children in 2014. The same man who received the Laureus prize in Germany for his charity work. He is going above and beyond to help those less fortunate than himself, only to be told to “piss off back to Anatolia”.
Oliver Bierhoff, the then national team director, could have done a better job of protecting his player. When he argued that “you have to consider whether we could have done without him [Özil] in a sporting sense” in an interview after the team’s exit, he set him up to be a scapegoat. Earlier, he claimed that the issue of Özil meeting Erdoğan was resolved, even when whistles directed at him were heard from the crowd in Germany’s last warm-up game for the World Cup.
Özil receives a lot of abuse for what has often been described as a languid playing style and going missing in big games. Germany, in 2018 World Cup, won their easy group without losing a game, failed to impress in pre-tournament friendlies and then got knocked out in the group stage of the World Cup. Naturally, these criticisms have become more frequent as his teams struggle. For instance, in a match against Mexico, Joachim Low (the national coach) forced Özil to defend and have pushed both Central Defenders up, due to Özil making errors in midfield as well as dropping him for the next game, saying “there will be corrections, to address the mistakes”. After the World Cup, Löw finds himself contracted until 2022, whereas Özil has been forced into retirement.
Özil does not fit the mould of the footballer that characters such as Hoeneß would rather he be. To criticise him for last winning “a tackle before the 2014 World Cup” as Uli did is to misunderstand what role the playmaker provides. He prefers to pass rather than to shoot and does not seem to play the game with the passion that others may do. Yet his body language disguises an efficiency which has led him to the top of his game and one that Hoeneß overlooks in his criticism of him. Özil ’s form with Arsenal in big games has been mixed. At times, he has lit up games with a goal and an assist in a 2015 game against United standing out, along with a last-minute wonder goal against Ludogorets. Yet, in other games, he has failed to impose himself, especially against Chelsea. His record against the big teams up to 2017, the most recent statistics I could find, show a decent return of 12 goal contributions in 27 appearances despite an extremely low win rate (which is not his fault alone). Perhaps Özil has struggled to win games against top teams by himself of late, but then there are very few players who can when the team is not playing well. In national colours, Özil has been able to dominate, playing under a better team. Given the sort of player he is, one who does not often shoot, he thrives off clinical strikers, who up until lately were performing well.
The tragedy of Mesut Özil is one of racism, of the fickleness as well as human nature and character who despite trying his hardest to fit into German culture and ultimately got rejected. I wish only the best for Özil in the rest of his career. He deserves it after having to go through this ordeal. His words show that claims that Western Europe has eliminated racism are false and expose the progress made to tackle racism, especially in football, to be illusory.
While one might argue that Özil didn’t help by meeting a known dictator, to say that he brought it upon himself is ignorant. Meeting with Erdoğan was merely the spark that lit the explosion of racial bigotry. The sad truth of Özil was that eventually, he would always have come under attack, due to the conditional nature of his nationality. As soon as he failed, he became a Turk and fair game for his attackers.
The tragedy of Mesut Özil