Ozil thanks Arsenal fans for ‘love’ as German FA boss admits mistakes in racism row

Arsenal’s new head coach and players show support to Ozil, while the hashtags #StandWithOzil and #SayNoToRacism storm social media.
Friday 27/07/2018
A banner showing Arsenal's Mesut Ozil is displayed at the stands during the International Champions Cup match between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid in Singapore, on July 26. (AP)
A banner showing Arsenal's Mesut Ozil is displayed at the stands during the International Champions Cup match between Arsenal and Atletico Madrid in Singapore, on July 26. (AP)

LONDON - Mesut Ozil thanked Arsenal fans for their “love” at a pre-season friendly after a torrid week following his racism allegations against Germany’s football body.

Ozil watched Arsenal’s penalties defeat to Atletico Madrid on Thursday from the bench but he received one of the biggest cheers of the night when his image was flashed up on the big screen.

“Thanks to the Gunners in Singapore for showing so much love tonight,” the 29-year-old German midfielder tweeted, with a picture of him waving to the crowd.

Arsenal fans dominated the audience of 23,000 who watched the London team go down 3-1 on penalties to Atletico in the International Champions Cup, after normal time ended at 1-1.

Ozil, benched after his late return to training following the World Cup, sent shockwaves through German football when he quit the national team, complaining of “racism and disrespect” over his Turkish roots. 

Ozil, who was born in Germany to Turkish-origin parents and lifted the World Cup in 2014, also felt he was unfairly singled out for their shock group-stage exit at this year’s tournament.

Arsenal’s new head coach, Unai Emery, and players have rallied round Ozil on their pre-season tour, while the hashtags #StandWithOzil and #SayNoToRacism have been popular on social media.

“Of course everybody supports Mesut. We’re with him, we’re trying to help him,” Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan told AFP this week.

“Everyone knows that Arsenal is a team with a lot of foreign players and foreign employees. It doesn’t matter which country you represent, it’s like family and we support each other.”

German Football Association (DFB) head Reinhard Grindel on Thursday admitted he should have made clearer that racism is unacceptable.

Ozil was criticised for having his photograph taken with Turkey’s authoritarian President Tayyip Erdogan in May.

Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, a team mate of Turkish descent who also posed with Erdogan, were jeered by German fans in warm-up games before the World Cup in Russia.

Grindel rejected Ozil’s accusations that the DFB had been racist but said he regretted the photograph had been misused to justify “racist words”.

“In retrospect, as president I should have clearly said what is obvious for me personally and for us as an association, namely that any form of racism is unbearable, unacceptable and intolerable,” he said in a statement.

The 29-year-old’s decision to quit triggered a public debate in Germany about its relations with its largest immigrant community. 

A DeutschlandTrend poll showed only 14 percent of Germans blamed the DFB for the affair, though 47 percent held Ozil and the DFB equally responsible.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaker of parliament and one of Germany’s most senior politicians, was highly critical of the DFB, telling the RND newspaper group it was a “shame” it had let the photo affair blow up as it had.

“Until today, I don’t understand how the DFB could have allowed such an unintelligent photo op to become a national affair,” Schaeuble said.

“Any other smarter person would have and must have prevented all that,” the former finance minister said, adding that “the young footballers should be helped to navigate through criticism”.

“As a football fan I’m sad that Ozil’s era in the national jersey ended like this,” he said. “As a politician, I regret that a pile of mistakes and misunderstanding has harmed integration so. But that’ll be overcome with time.”

Ozil said Grindel had blamed him for Germany’s group stage elimination from this year’s World Cup, their earliest exit from the tournament in 80 years, and considered him a German when the national team won but an immigrant when the side lost.

“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” Ozil, wrote Sunday in a four-page farewell statement.

Grindel said the personal criticism had affected him.

“I feel even more sorry for my colleagues, the many volunteers and staff at the DFB caught up (in accusations of) racism,” he said. “I decisively reject this – both for me personally and for the association.”

He said he and the DFB believed in diversity, solidarity, and non-discrimination and promised the DFB would use the debate stoked by Ozil’s departure as an opportunity to redouble its integration efforts.

In 2016, far-right leader Alexander Gauland took aim at defender Boateng, who was born in Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father.

“People find him good as a footballer, but they don’t want to have a Boateng as a neighbour,” said Gauland.

In Ozil’s scathing critique of Grindel, the Arsenal star said he tried to explain his “heritage, ancestry and the reasoning” behind the Erdogan photo to the DFB boss.

But Grindel was “more interested in speaking about his own political views and belittling my opinion”, said Ozil.

The playmaker has walked away from international football after a career that included a World Cup triumph, 92 appearances, 23 goals and 40 assists for Germany.

Born in Gelsenkirchen, he is a third generation German who counts among more than three million people of Turkish origin in Germany.

Arsenal boss Unai Emery said t Ozil has nothing but respect from his team-mates.

Emery on Wednesday said Arsenal were taking pains to make sure Ozil, 29, feels comfortable at the club.

“We want to help all the players and Mesut to feel here with us like he’s at home, like a family,” Emery, said.

“We are every player’s family and for him to work every day, to work well with his team-mates, is good for us… I’m very happy with him. I’m looking at every player and I think Mesut, he has here the respect of every player.”

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech also said the players were keen to support Ozil, who smashed the club’s transfer record when he moved from Real Madrid in 2013.

“What happened between him and the national team is his private matter so this is not an issue for us,” said Cech.

“It’s something which is unfortunate for him but we will try to do everything so that he feels good, that he trains well so he feels good for the season, because he’s one of the key players.”

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)