Mesut Ozil’s decision to quit playing for Germany unleashed a racism storm in Berlin on Monday, but earned the applause of Ankara with a Turkish minister hailing “a goal against the virus of fascism”.
After months of silence over a controversial photograph with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, which sparked questions about his loyalty to Germany, Ozil erupted on Sunday.
The Arsenal midfielder posted a stinging four-page statement taking aim at German Football Association (DFB) bosses, sponsors and the media.
Ozil, a key member of the squad which won the 2014 World Cup, blamed the DFB management, in particular its president Reinhard Grindel, for failing to side with him against his critics.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil wrote.
However, the DFB refuted his claims against Grindel.
“We reject the notion that the DFB is associated with racism,” read a statement issued on Monday.
“The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base.”
Ozil, 29, said he was true to both his Turkish and German origins and insisted he did not intend to make a political statement by appearing with Erdogan just before the World Cup finals.
“I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish,” said Ozil, who was repeatedly singled out for criticism after Germany’s woeful performance at the World Cup saw them crash out after the group stage.
Ozil’s explosive statement, in three separate postings on Twitter and Instagram, was hailed by Erdogan’s government, which has championed a campaign against what Ankara sees as growing Islamophobia in Europe.
“I congratulate Mesut Ozil who by leaving the national team has scored the most beautiful goal against the virus of fascism,” Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul wrote on Twitter.
But it was met with a mix of dismay and outrage in Germany.
Underlining that sports brings a lot to integration in a country, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respects Ozil’s decision.
“The chancellor values Mesut Ozil highly. He is a great footballer who has contributed a great deal to the national team,” said Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer, adding that he has “now made a decision that must be respected”.
Justice Minister Katarina Barley wrote on Twitter that it was an “alarm bell if a great German footballer like Mesut Ozil no longer feels wanted in his country or represented by the DFB.”