In an interview with the Bild newspaper, German Football Association (DFB) President Reinhard Grindel reiterated his regret that he hadn’t handled the situation with German football star Mesut Özil differently, saying he had thought long and hard about it, Deutsche Welle English service reported on Sunday.
“Regarding the racist attacks, I could have taken a clearer position at some points and stood by Mesut Özil,” Grindel said. “I should have been clear with my words. Such attacks are completely unacceptable. I regret that he felt deserted by the DFB. It is important to say, though, that I said nothing about his sporting performance after the World Cup. For me, it was obvious that we win together and lose together. To make an individual player responsible for our exit would be absurd.”
In May, Arsenal midfielder Özil took a photo with President Erdoğan during a visit to London, sparking a debate about Özil’s loyalty to the German national football team. Eventually, Özil received an abundance of racist comments from ultranationalist German football fans as well as from officials of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
Özil specifically called out Grindel in his statement on June 23 revealing his decision to quit the national team, though, saying the president blamed him for the team’s poor performance in Russia. “That is not right. I was making a different point,” Grindel told Bild. “After the photos with [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, İlkay Gündoğan [another German star with Turkish roots] clearly and understandably made a statement. I would have liked the same from Özil because I know from conversations with fans that they too had questions on the matter. That must not be misinterpreted as criticism of his sporting performance. I would have liked such an explanation even if we ended up winning the World Cup.”
Asked about Özil’s accusations, Grindel said it “wasn’t about my feelings” but instead about not discrediting work to bring in German footballers from various backgrounds being done by the DFB.
Following Germany’s early exit from the World Cup in Russia, Özil announced his retirement from international football with immediate effect, hitting out at what he perceived to be discrimination surrounding his meeting with Erdoğan.
“For me, having a picture with President Erdoğan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” Özil wrote on Twitter. “My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies.
Making direct reference to Grindel, Özil added, “In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”