President of the German Football Association (DFB – Deutscher Fussball-Bund) Reinhard Grindel poses during a photo session in Monaco on August 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE
The under-pressure president of the German Football Association (DFB), Reinhard Grindel, has told AFP he is confident the controversy over Mesut Ozil’s international retirement will not have a negative impact on Germany’s bid to host Euro 2024.
Ozil, capped 92 times, walked away from the Germany set-up in the wake of their disastrous World Cup campaign, complaining of facing “racism and disrespect” and being made a scapegoat for the team’s failure.
That was after Ozil and teammate Ilkay Gundogan, born in Germany but of Turkish origin, sparked a political storm in May by meeting Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and being photographed together.
Arsenal star Ozil took aim at Grindel in a statement announcing his retirement, saying that “in the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose”.
The DFB chief has vehemently rejected accusations against him of racism, and has dismissed calls to resign over the issue.
In July, Germany’s biggest selling newspaper, Bild, questioned whether Grindel staying on “represents a threat” to the Euro bid, with Turkey the other contenders.
“Everyone in the DFB and in UEFA knows me very well. I have very deep trust that they can put this into perspective, so I think there will be no influence on the bidding process,” Grindel, 56, told AFP in an exclusive interview in Monaco.
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Some German politicians have accused Erdogan of using Ozil’s retirement to boost Turkey’s own bid. Grindel is himself a former politician, serving in the Bundestag in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party for over a decade before moving to the DFB in 2016.
The Ozil affair has generated a fierce debate about integration in Germany, a country with a large ethnic Turkish population, but Grindel says his stance on the infamous photographs was about defending his values.
“In the end, it has nothing to do with whether a player of ours has a migration background or not,” he said.
“If a German player would, in an election campaign, make a photo with, let’s say, a far right-wing politician in Germany, we would have the same debate and we in the DFB would react in the same way.
“We stand at the DFB for values: respect, tolerance, fair play, freedom of speech and freedom of press.
“This picture with Erdogan upset our fans, because their President Erdogan doesn’t stand for those values.”
Also a former journalist, Grindel knows he cannot simply shy away from the Ozil affair despite the importance of the Euro 2024 bid. UEFA will announce the winner on September 27.
Turkey has never hosted a major tournament, while Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup was a spectacular success. And the country is ready now, he says.
“I think it is good for football in Europe and UEFA to have a host whose political and financial and economic reasons are stable, and that we have a security that we have a host who has experience in organising such a tournament,” Grindel said.
Residents of his home town Hamburg voted against their city bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympics, but this, he insists, is not the same.
“We have very good support from all the people in Germany. It is a little bit different to the Olympic Games, because they know that it will not cost so much, because we have all the infrastructure we need,” he said.
Keeping faith in Loew
Grindel stresses the benefits to UEFA of Germany’s political and economic stability, and stability is also something the DFB opted for in keeping faith in Joachim Loew as national coach.
In charge since 2006, Loew signed a new contract until 2022 before the ill-fated World Cup campaign in Russia.
That saw Germany exit in the group stage after losing to South Korea, with Loew admitting he got his approach all wrong.
Loew has also rejected accusations of racism within the German camp, and Grindel stands by the man who won Germany the 2014 World Cup and then the 2017 Confederations Cup with a young side.
“We have the trust in his quality and his motivation that he is the right man who can build this new generation and that was the most important point for us,” he said.
Germany now go into the inaugural UEFA Nations League, playing France in Munich on Thursday. Ozil is not in the squad, but Gundogan is among the survivors from the World Cup.
“To be honest I think if the next challenges were qualifiers for the European Championship, perhaps the break in the team would have been more deep, but now we have a situation in which the Nations League is a very important tournament for us,” the DFB boss admitted.