Germany’s midfielder Mesut Ozil attends a training session at the Rungghof training centre on June 7, 2018 in Eppan near Bolzano, northern Italy, ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE
After the stunning announcement of Mesut Ozil’s retirement from international football after a career including Germany’s triumph at the 2014 World Cup, we look at the key moments that culminated in his bombshell announcement on Sunday evening.
– Erdogan meeting –
The fiasco started on May 13 when Ozil and fellow Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London during a charity gala event.
Both players posed for pictures with Erdogan, who they presented with shirts of their respective clubs Arsenal and Manchester City, the latter of which was signed “for my president” by City star Gundogan.
The photos were released on social media by Erdogan’s election campaign team on May 14, the day before the Germany squad for the World Cup finals was announced.
Gundogan posted on Instagram to say the pictures were not a “political statement”, but Ozil kept silent.
They were heavily criticised by German politicians and football pundits, while Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German FA (DFB), said the players had allowed themselves to be “manipulated”.
– World Cup call-up –
Despite heavy criticism in Germany of the controversial pictures, head coach Joachim Loew named both Ozil and Gundogan in his provisional World Cup squad on May 15.
“Not for a second” had Loew thought of leaving them out, despite calls for the pair to be dropped.
On May 19, Ozil and Gundogan meet Loew and senior DFB officials, plus German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin, in a failed attempt to clear up the matter.
Steinmeier said both players affirmed their loyalty to Germany during the meeting.
“I grew up here and I’m faithful to my country,” Ozil was quoted by Steinmeier as saying, while Gundogan added, “Germany is today clearly my country and my team”.
– Jeers and whistles –
Ozil and Gundogan were jeered and whistled by travelling German fans during a 2-1 friendly defeat away to Austria in Klagenfurt on June 2, despite Ozil scoring the opening goal.
Ozil sat out the narrow friendly win over Saudi Arabia six days later in Leverkusen, but Gundogan was booed when he came on and reportedly later wept in the German dressing room.
– Bierhoff blunder –
Former Germany captain Lothar Matthaeus said Ozil no longer seemed comfortable playing in the Germany shirt in the wake of the shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the opening World Cup game.
Loew then dropped Ozil for the last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden, but reinstated him for the 2-0 defeat to South Korea which saw the holders crash out in the group stages.
In an interview on July 6 in newspaper Welt, Germany’s team director Oliver Bierhoff implied Ozil should have been left out of the World Cup squad — then back-tracked in an embarrassing twist.
Two days later, Grindel says Ozil should make his position clear to German fans in magazine Kicker, while Ozil’s father rejected the criticism and says his son should retire from Germany duty.
– Ozil quits –
After scoring 23 goals in 92 matches for Germany, Ozil retired from international football with immediate effect on July 22 after breaking his silence in lengthy posts on Twitter and Instagram.
“For me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” he wrote.
“The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt.
“I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”