It what now seems like its own miniature soap opera, the DFB (German Football Association) is still making Mesut Özil out to be one of the main culprits as to why Germany collectively under-performed at the World Cup. The off-field distraction Özil and Ilkay Gündogan for created by attending an event with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has brought them heavy criticism from members of the DFB, pundits, and fans in Germany. Recent statements by DFB officials even suggest they are making Özil out as a scapegoat for Germany’s disastrous World Cup.
Just last week, DFB general manager Oliver Bierhoff, speaking to German newspaper Die Welt, said that Die Mannschaft might have fared better in Russia had head coach Joachim Löw left Özil out of the squad entirely:
I believe that the team wasn’t so bothered about the fact that Mesut and Ilkay were in the photos. But the (media) debate just wouldn’t stop. In hindsight, I would have tried to deal with this issue in a more decisive manner.
Many interpreted Bierhoff’s comments to be an attempt to save face for both himself and the DFB. He has since apologized, claiming that he misspoke and did not meant to single Özil out, but the implication of his statement seemed clear: the manager of the German national team seemed to be capitulating to the demands of extreme-right critics, who have relentlessly harassed Özil in particular for not being “German enough” or patriotic enoguh for the German national team.
Also, contrary to Bierhoff’s retraction, DFB President Reinhard Grindel also openly criticized Özil for not yet responding publicly to any of the criticism. According to Grindel, Germany’s fans “deserve an answer” from the midfielder (via Associated Press):
It’s true that Mesut has not commented yet. That has disappointed a lot of fans because they have questions and expect an answer. They are right to expect this answer. That’s why it’s totally clear for me that Mesut should speak on the issue.
Grindel has subsequently been criticized in Germany for his comments, the Berliner Zeitung going so far as to claim that he was just “throwing oil on the fire to shine a good light on himself.” North Rhine-Westphalia’s minister president Armin Laschet offered his own withering take on Twitter:
Only DFB officials can come up with the idea that a photo with Erdogan is responsible for a defeat against the football-giants of South Korea.
This seemingly never-ending pattern of finger pointing between the DFB and the German press reflects divided opinions across the country and, more importantly, has left Özil in a impossible situation. It may not have been in his best interest to pose for the picture in London along with Gündogan, but the DFB itself has now kept the scandal in the headlines rather than defend their player.
Özil has made no statement regarding his future with the team: until further notice, he appears prepared to continue to represent Germany. But friends and his own father, Mustafa, wonder how he can do it. Mustafa Özil commented,
Unfortunately there are still people in the German population who have reservations and prejudices against us of Turkish descent. In Mesut’s place I’d resign (from the Germany team). But that’s just my personal opinion.