German politicians on Wednesday accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using Mesut Ozil’s controversial retirement from international football to boost Turkey’s bid to host Euro 2024 — and weaken Germany’s.
On Sunday, Ozil, 29, dropped a bombshell by announcing he will not play for Germany again and accused Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German FA (DFB), of racism.
On Monday, Erdogan backed Ozil’s stance, but senior voices in Berlin accused the Turkish leader of trying to undermine Germany’s bid to host the Euro 2024 finals.
Erdogan has waded into the debate over Ozil’s decision “precisely when the DFB needs the necessary trust of the other UEFA member federations”, according to Wolfgang Bosbach, a former member of parliament in Angela Merkel’s CDU party. “Is it really a coincidence?”
Germany and Turkey are the only nations bidding to host the European championships in six years’ time with a decision expected on September 27 by UEFA.
Paul Ziemiak, a senior figure in Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, denounced Turkish interference in German affairs.
“No matter how one stands over the photo of Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan and the current debate: President Erdogan should stop interfering in Germany,” he told Bild.
– ‘Two hearts’ –
Both Arsenal star Ozil and Manchester City midfielder Gundogan found themselves at the centre of a political storm in May when they met Erdogan in London, especially as Gundogan presented him with a City football shirt signed “to my president”.
The footballers’ loyalty to Germany came into question and they were booed by German fans in pre-World Cup friendlies.
The saga overshadowed Germany’s disastrous World Cup campaign in Russia when the former holders exited after the group stage.
Gundogan insists the meeting with Erdogan in May was not politically motivated, but Ozil only broke his two months of silence on Sunday by turning his back on his international career after 92 appearances, 23 goals and 40 assists.
In a three-part statement posted on Twitter and Instagram, Ozil lamented a lack of support from DFB chief Grindel, saying: “I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish.”
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
The DFB refuted the allegations of racism, but Erdogan praised Ozil, who was born in Gelsenkirchen to Turkish parents.
“His attitude in the statement is completely patriotic, it is absolutely praiseworthy behaviour,” said the Turkish leader.
Meanwhile, the pressure is growing on Grindel, who is currently on holiday, to resign over the Ozil fiasco.
“Grindel, in his holiday resort, should look at himself and self-critically question whether he still has the necessary authority for the presidential office — or actually represents a threat to the Euro (2024) application,” said Bild, Germany’s biggest selling newspaper, in a commentary piece.
“Even if he considers it unfair — the DFB would support a resignation. And yet it would be a dignified resignation.”