“When we are winning I am German, but when we lose I am an Immigrant”.
With the sentence above, Mesut Özil retired yesterday from the German national team.
In an open letter to his fans on social media, the Arsenal talisman spoke about the ‘racist and discriminatory attitude’ he received from the German media, different sponsors and partners, and especially the president of the German Association, Reinhard Grindel.
In May, Özil joined Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Together with another German-Turkish player, Manchester City midfielder Ilkai Gundogan, they made a joint photo. This photo became viral and turned out to be controversial .
The photo has kicked off a kind of a nationalistic storm in Germany, that included the demonisation of the midfielder, what was only intensified with Die Mannschaft’s early exit from 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Özil discussed a few very sensitive questions in German society. The immigrants, the racism, the eternal question of "who is a true German?", and challenged the whole issue of the national identity of our time, while examining the acceptance of the different cultural identities in Europe in 2018.
Up to date, there was no football player in Özil’s scale, a world class superstar, who had committed such a retirement act from his national team, and detailed it on four pages. He made it with such deep and cut-down social justifications, including personal answers and accusations to some of the most senior football personalities In his country and in Europe. It raises a lot of questions, for Germany and other European countries.
Who is a truly "loyal" to his country or nation? Who is the one who is faithful to the society in which he lives? Can he emphasise his complex identity that is laying on more than one ethnic descent? Is there such a thing as multiculturalism? How strong is the ‘politics of identities’ that has emerged in recent years? What more are we - representatives of our nations, or of the places our family comes from? To what extent is the gap between Islam and Eastern cultures and European cultures unbridgeable? Is there a quiet war here? If so, who will win it, and does history repeat itself? All are very hard questions, that enclave very tough and unknown answers as well.
Özil’s retirement letter is an important and fascinating document, which teaches us a great deal about the direction that football and footballers have been going to for a long time, and is now sharpening, when it touches on a real, relevant social discourse that has lived and permeated various forms in all the societies of the world recently.
Özil debuted for Germany in 2009, making 92 appearances, scoring 23 goals and assisting 40 more. During this period he gained the 3rd place with the team in 2010, won the World Cup in 2014 and was named as German player of the in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 & 2016. In addition, he won the ‘Bambi Prize’ for successful integration in German society in 2010, joined the legion of honour under the ‘Silver Laurel Leaf’ in 2014 and was named as ‘Germany Football Ambassador’ in 2015.
After the publication of his words, the 29th years old has won some more reactions of the exact type he pointed. Bayern Munich president, Uli Hoeness, has slammed Özil following his decision. ”He's been playing dirt for years”, “He last won a tackle before the 2014 World Cup. And now he hides himself and his s*** performance behind this photo”, “His 35 million follower boys, who of course do not exist in the real world, think he has played excellently if he plays a cross to a man”, “Whenever we played against Arsenal, we played over him, because we know he's the weak point”, were just few of the things Hoeness said to Bild on the ex German International Özil, just highlighting how problematic and complicated things are in Germany. Hoeness was released last year after being in jail for three years after committing a tax fraud in Germany for 28 million Euros.
With these achievements and reactions it is clear that the Özil saga has definitely opened a serious wound in German society. Yet, this story is also reflecting the tension exists between Middle Eastern, Muslim, African or any other culture to the Western European ones.