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BFW Roundtable: the fallout of Mesut Özil’s withering criticism of the DFB

We talk about the impact of Özil’s retirement and how the DFB can move forward.

Germany v Sweden: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Earlier today in a series of posts, Mesut Özil announced his retirement from international football. In a three-part statement, Özil talked about his appearance in a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and what it meant to him as a citizen with Turkish heritage. He then went on to describe the treatment he received from the media and sponsors as well as the DFB.

After Die Mannschaft crashed out of the World Cup, German soccer president Reinhard Grindel put the blame squarely on Özil’s shoulders, while ignoring the roles the locker room and manager Jogi Löw played in the defeat.

I talked with contributors Phillip Quinn, Chuck Smith and Tom Adams about Özil’s statements and how the DFB can change moving forward.

What message does the DFB send to the world when they treat Özil this way?

Phillip Quinn: The message is definitely not one of inclusion and multiculturalism which are what they’ve been running for years. I don’t see how Reinhard Grindel stays in his current position as the President of the DFB. He needs to go. Just a few years ago, Germany was a model for how nations can unite with players whose ancestry varies from all around the world. Now? Who knows?

Chuck Smith: In short, that they are a mess. Just a year ago, the DFB was the “Gold Standard” of global soccer; but now they are in turmoil with questions on their coaches and their organizational leadership, along with massive cracks in the foundation of the entire DFB structure. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went as far as summoning his best Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski) and referring to them as “amateurs.” This is every other country’s chance to keep swinging wildly with haymakers at Germany; because now they just might have a chance to land one.

Jake Fenner: By blaming all of the failures of the World Cup on one player, it shows the DFB is ignoring critical errors during this tournament. Tactically, Germany were the inferior side in every game they played. The lineups were questionable, they were way too open for counterattacks, they committed too many errors, and they played with an unearned sense of calm and superiority. Did Özil play a part in this? Yes, but so did every other player in that locker room. By putting all of the blame on Özil’s shoulders, the DFB president’s comments clearly come from a place of bigotry and racism, and fail to provide the necessary leadership for the team to improve.

Tom Adams: With the way they handled the Özil/Gündoğan situation, I think the DFB is shedding light on a deeper issue that need not be associated with football. I’m not saying I agree with Özil taking the photo with a figurehead that’s increasingly unpopular in Germany, but every player has a right to do what they please in their personal life. Football is incredibly polarizing; the DFB should’ve just dealt with this internally and been done with it — no retrospective scapegoating. Instead, pointing the finger after the fact sent a message that the DFB was looking for excuses for their worst World Cup in history. Now, they more or less have caused a talented player to retire.

In his posts, Özil thanks Jogi Löw and Oliver Bierhoff for supporting him. Do you believe they did the best they could?

CS: It’s easy to Monday Morning QB crisis management — and yes, this was a team crisis on many levels — but the short is answer is “No.” Aside of botching the Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan situation, the DFB mismanaged everything from the roster to tactics to ensuring the team wasn’t up 24/7 playing Fortnite. This is easily a colossal group failure that has now evolved into catastrophe given how Özil just annihilated the leadership.

JF: I’m not sure to be perfectly honest. There was a lot happening behind the scenes during this World Cup and I’m sure they both had their hands full. That being said, I don’t know what else they could have done. They both stood up for him and supported him throughout the tournament both publicly and privately. Even if they wanted the president of the federation to stop, they don’t have that power. As a fan, I think they tried to stop this from happening the best they could. Even if they could have done more, the blame for this doesn’t lie on them.

TA: Although there’s no way of knowing what went on behind the scenes, I think the DFB could’ve been a lot clearer with Özil about what he should’ve done or not done after the photo had been released. I think that they were too ‘on-the-fence’. They should have been a lot clearer and definite in their answer; either say, ‘look, we know he shouldn’t have taken the picture, but we’re going to deal with it internally’, or they should have said it was a non-issue because players’ personal lives are entirely separate from the DFB and Die Mannschaft — that should’ve been the end of it. Instead, they sort of beat around the bush and only really started to criticize Özil after Germany crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, but he was only one player among a handful that under-performed. Singling him out retrospectively is a bit ridiculous, especially in the manner they did so.

PQ: Löw and Bierhoff’s failure to go above and beyond to defend their players from these attacks is a failure of the highest order. When you throw this on top of their failure to get out of the group stage in Russia, it’s still hard for me to understand why either man has a job anymore.

What does the DFB need to do to prevent an incident like this from occurring in the future?

TA: Going forward, I think the DFB need to be 100% absolutely transparent with the players when they show up for camp. This is what we expect from each and every one of you; no if’s, and’s, or but’s; plain and simple. Any issues in the squad should be kept quiet and dealt with internally and not put on center stage for the press to have a field day with.

CS: Following the epic World Cup flameout of 2018, Jogi Löw’s self-imposed hiatus over recent weeks, and the subsequent blowtorch job Özil just took to the organization, there NEEDS to be change. Maybe Löw stays to ensure there is someone to carry over the lessons learned from this whole debacle, but new leadership is required. Not like next month, like now. One of your great all-time players (regardless of his on-the-field performance during this World Cup) cannot go out like this without a developing a new solution for how to implement a new culture to the entire organization.

PQ: The DFB needs to get away from the position of appointing politicians to run the actual organization. It is a sporting organization. It needs to be run by people deeply involved in the game. No, I don’t mean “Appoint former players!” to positions. But, keep those who only want to run the DFB because it’ll look good on a political resume away from the organization.

JF: This was an issue that should have never been decided in the court of public opinion. It’s clear that Erdoğan is not the most popular leader throughout Europe, but when Lothar Matthäus takes a picture with Vladimir Putin and doesn’t receive similar backlash from any part of the German media or the DFB, it shows a clear double standard. The DFB needs to support their players, plain and simple. By that, I don’t mean they should have endorsed what Özil did. But, they shouldn’t have been attacking their own players from within the organization, while also losing support from sponsors and the German public.

How does this divided locker room pick up the pieces and move on?

JF: I remember hearing reports throughout the tournament that the locker room was divided, the team was in shambles, and that there was no way anything good could come from this team. So, my simple answer is to start from scratch. It may be time to completely overhaul this team. It’s what the USMNT is doing in the wake of their failure to qualify. Germany should do the same. Before the tournament, people were saying there were four rosters full of players Germany could send to the World Cup that could make the Round of 16. So, why not take this opportunity to rebuild, identify key veterans who will lead by example and usher in the next wave of German talent.

CS: First and foremost, Löw needs to leave his personal feelings about players at the door. His favorites (*cough*Sami Khedira*cough*) were among the primary reasons Germany was terrible. He needs to pinpoint a few, select veterans (I’m looking at Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels, and Marco Reus) and make them foundation pieces for a new Die Mannschaft. All are widely respected and all will at least be capable substitutes (at a minimum) in four years. Build from there with the young players. Give young talent like Leon Goretzka, Timo Werner, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sane, Niklas Süle and Julian Brandt the power to make this their team, while maintaining the veterans as leaders as “glue” to ensure another 2018 doesn’t happen. It’s going to be vital to keep some players around that know the path toward winning, while passing that knowledge and experience on to the younger group.

PQ: Since we now know that Löw is staying on, he must show some real leadership for his team and nation, for that matter. He needs to show the players that he has their back (to an extent) and be unequivocal in this matter. As for the players, the leaders in the locker room must step up and take control of the situation. Players like Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and Thomas Müller must be better leaders.

TA: I think that any negativity from the players needs to be squashed moving forward as well. The DFB have decided to keep Löw on board, so they need to put their trust in him; they don’t have any other choice. Özil has made the personal decision to resign from international play, so he’s no longer part of the equation. For the players, if you’re called up to the national team, show up, be a professional, follow the rules set forth, and give 110% effort...or leave. Transparency is key; everyone HAS to be on the same page from the minute they show up to camp to the minute they leave; no excuses.

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