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Boateng questions silence of Özil’s Germany teammates, seeks meeting with Bayern leaders over “lack of focus”

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Jerome Boateng speculated that Özil’s teammates feared angering German fans and rejected criticism from Bayern Munich’s leaders that he is not focused on his sport.

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

In a remarkably candid interview with SZ, Jerome Boateng has made waves yet again with remarks on the ongoing controversy over Mesut Özil’s bitter retirement from the German national team and on criticism directed toward himself for allegedly not being focused on soccer.

Boateng was notably one of very few players on the German national team who took to social media to thank Mesut Özil and bid him farewell after his incendiary announcement that he was retiring from the team. Only Julian Draxler and Antonio Rüdiger on the current team also commented; Nils Petersen defended Özil in comments to the press somewhat later. From the World Cup winning 2014 team, only Boateng and former Arsenal teammate Lukas Podolski spoke out.

Boateng made it clear that he is disappointed in his Germany teammates’ silence. “Where were the teammates who thanked Mesut? Apparently, they were afraid to speak out because they thought it wouldn’t go down well with the German fans.”

The controversy began when Özil and Ilkay Gundogan posed for a photo op with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan before the World Cup. Since Erdogan has steered Turkey toward the right down an ever-more authoritarian path, he has angered many Germans, yet he remains overwhelmingly popular among Turks living in Germany, winning two thirds of their vote in a recent election. After the photo became public, Özil and Gundogan were attacked, among other things, for failing to support “German values.”

Boateng emphasized, however, that the photo and all its implications should not have prevented Özil’s teammates from thanking an exceptional player with a special background:

It’s not about the episode with the photo. It’s about a fantastic player who became a world champion with us, who had a ton of international caps, who also changed German soccer a good bit. A number 10 with an immigrant background! You have to say “thank you” to him. To abstain — I think that’s a shame.

And still the controversy rages on. Most recently, Özil’s agent lashed out at Germany and Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer, vice-captain Thomas Müller, and Toni Kroos. The trio had responded to questions about Özil by affirming that there was no racism on the German team — Kroos explicitly dismissed Özil’s claims as “nonsense.” And the agent also attacked Bayern president Uli Hoeneß and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who both vocally condemned Özil as a player.

A meeting with Rummenigge and Hoeneß

It is not only with respect to Mesut Özil that Boateng’s opinion differs greatly from that of his club’s CEO and president. Boateng also indicated that he intends to have a meeting with Rummenigge and Hoeneß (via Kicker). The center-back said,

It is important to me to make clear yet again that I am completely focused on FC Bayern.

Reports have repeatedly surfaced suggesting that Rummenigge in particular is annoyed by Boateng’s various side-interests and trend-setting lifestyle. Boateng said he thought it was “not so nice when things are claimed about me everywhere and then I don’t receive any public support from the club.

The topic has lingered since 2016, when Rummenigge called for Boateng to “come back to earth.” and Rummenigge seemed unusually open to allowing Boateng to transfer elsewhere, although a move to PSG ultimately fell apart. Boateng emphasized, “My focus is clearly on Bayern. My head is completely clear and I’m looking forward to the English weeks, the Champions League, the hymn.”

Boateng stated he intends to have a meeting with Hoeneß and Rummenigge in the near future. He said,

What bothered me like crazy were the statements after the World Cup. It was almost funny: supposedly I wasn’t completely focused because at the South Korea game I wore earrings and sunglasses in the stands when the sun was shining. In 2014 I also wore sun glasses and earrings, but I didn’t read anything about it. It’s baffling to me.

On the contrary to claims about his focus, Boateng stressed that he “lives totally professionally.” He moreover trains privately to prepare for every Bayern game in addition to the team’s regular preparations. Boateng said he did not understand why he and the club leadership had seemingly moved apart. He told SZ,

I don’t know what the reason is. The fact that I have a different appearance and also have different interests from the others — I think that’s legitimate. And to reiterate: That I am focused on soccer too little — nobody can claim that about me. Ask my teammates; ask my coaches.