Footballখেলারাজনীতি

Fear and Loathing in Modern-day Football — The Mesut Özil Case

Debkalpa Banerjee

In a time when Cristiano Ronaldo has left Real Madrid for an Italian pasture, Russia has hold an immaculate World Cup for progenies to recall, and Liverpool is being touted as a league favourite; the unimaginable has proved itself to be a reality. Maybe that’s why the news of the recently re-elected Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s state visit to pose for a photo with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in September can be digested easily, especially after Mesut Özil’s retirement from international football. Or should it be digested that easily, considering the hypocrisy that’s been laid bare, following the 29-year-old Arsenal playmaker’s debacle with the German football federation?

 

The Premier League is back for him, in the form of a defeat to the best team in the country, but is he back for the league, with the clouds of ridicule still looming over him that he has had to face the past month?

 

Starting from scratch, the third generation German-Turk has been made a scapegoat for quite some time now, from Arsenal’s defensive shortcomings to Germany’s historic crashing out in the group stages of the World Cup against the South Koreans in front of thousands in Kazan Arena. Mesut Özil had enough of it, going by his tweets on July 22, announcing his detachment from anything to do with the white and black shirt, blaming DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) of racism and disrespect towards him. His contempt is especially aimed towards DFB president, Reinhard Grindel, in whose eyes Özil is a German when they win, and an immigrant when they lose. For a player who has been a symbol of togetherness and coexistence, since as early as 2010 when he won the Bambi Award for successful integration of German society, it is of massive disrespect to be held in the crosshairs for the entire squad’s incompetence in the World Cup this year.

 

How a photo opportunity with the Turkish dictator with his teammate İlkay Gündoğan back in the month of May escalated to such an extent, indicates the arrival of right-wing influences in the game. Although Özil defended himself by claiming that meeting Erdoğan at a “charitable and education event” had no political intentions, there have been no signs of understanding from the authorities, even leading to sponsors and charitable partners backing out from their deals with the ex-Real Madrid player. Maybe, it can be countered to question the German’s naivety to not decipher the political meaning attached with such an incident during the time of Turkish elections, but it doesn’t justify the DFB’s actions. Sadly, an incident like this isn’t a single showing, with Belgian striker, Romelu Lukaku claiming the Belgian media to be racist as they claim him to be “the Belgian player of Congolese descent” whenever Belgium loses a game. Even the English newspaper, The Sun’s racist obsession with the Jamaican-born Raheem Sterling is a glaring example. Not to forget how the far-right was found grumbling in France, when the multicultural team originating from various African countries bested the best in the World Cup.

 

From being just a child running around in the streets of Gelsenkirchen to shaking the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s hands with only a towel wrapped around his hips, Mesut Özil earned himself a rightful place in the pantheon of German, scoring and assisting 63 goals in a respectable 92 international caps. Sadly, for him to be denounced after such an illustrious career strikes a harrowing chord in the hearts of the vast multitude of fans, that political themes are affecting the game adversely. Talking about Merkel, she was once the queen of Europe with her open-door refugee policy, but now she’s grasping at straws introducing “transit centers” for asylum seekers. And what should be taken note of carefully, that this change of policy in Germany perfectly coincides with the humiliation that the five time German Player of the Year had to face. The storm has indeed arrived, maybe even all over Europe.

 

With Özil acting on the ostracisation by the entire society and thus, raising questions about multiculturalism in Germany in the process, it feels like a cry. Like a cry which revealed the hidden form of racism that still exists in the world. Like a cry which calls for the beautiful game to be an uniting force for the world, and pinpoint those who are guilty of being narrow-minded. Here’s looking at you, Uli Hoeneß and your ill-judged opinion of the German playmaker being shit for years. This is indicatory of the force of decadence that has grasped the world of football.

 

Cutting all ties with Reinhard and his pals, Özil has shifted to London with his family, where he feels safe enough to concentrate on his club career with Arsenal now, as in times of need, people associated with the cannon on the crest did stand beside him. The likes of Hector Bellerin and Ian Wright voiced their opinion in support of Özil’s decision, while German stalwarts like Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller kept mum over it all. Who would risk getting their name struck off the good books of the federation, right? After such a showing of non-support, it’s perfectly understandable as to why Özil chose to leave Germany and work hard for a self-made resurgence ahead.

 

In a way, this serves as a reminder of how the practice of appointing a scapegoat is natural for Orwellian pigs, and even for human beings. DFB epitomised the character of Napoleon, if the entire situation is re-imagined in a British farm, with the playmaker falling victim like Snowball, to the mass discrimination prevalent in the authoritarian segments of Germany, nay Europe, now. It’s understandable that a photo with Recep Erdoğan doesn’t mean that Özil shares the similar views of cracking down on political opponents and curb the freedom of speech, but DFB jumped at the opportunity to claw their way out of their footballing mess by blaming it all on the 2015 German Football Ambassador.

 

The season started yesterday disappointingly for the Gunners, but hope it doesn’t cloud over him much in the upcoming weeks, because he needs to answer back to his adversaries with the ball at his feet. Because, he shouldn’t stop addressing the discrimination that might be faced by hundreds others, and should become a beacon of hope. Because, he now can depict the mood of the world like the sport has always done on the big stage.

 

Hope the powers stop switching from pig to man, and from man to pig, and recover the pride and integrity by dealing with issues of racism and disrespect, logically and humanly. Hope no one else has to force himself into retirement because of the ongoing European narrative about separation. And with a new manager and the start of a new season, hope Özil himself, can begin his career anew unabashedly.

 

Debkalpa Banerjee is now a student of Asian College of Journalism. Loves ink on paper, time travel paradoxes, existentialist films, scrambled eggs, the beautiful game and the liver bird on his chest.”

 

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