Mesut Ozil’s “Retirement” and the Fluidity of Identity

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Last Sunday, Mesut Ozil announced his international retirement from the Germany National Team. It may have not been a surprise especially after Germany’s horrible World Cup campaign which saw them eliminated from the group stage for the first time since 1938, finishing bottom of their group. What has made everyone talk about the news was the reasons behind his decision and its reflection of the complexity between national teams and players with dual nationalities.

Ozil announced his international retirement on Twitter stating “It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect. I used to wear the German shirt with pride and excitement, but now I don’t.” He first gave a very detailed explanation which started with the photo op with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alongside German teammate Ilkay Gundogan back in May. Ozil stated that the meeting with Erdogan had no political intentions whatsoever and spoke on the impact it had on his commercial partnerships. The gravest accusations were made against the German FA or Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB) and its president Reinhard Grindel. The Arsenal midfielder strongly accused Grindel and sections of the German media of making him the scapegoat of Germany’s World Cup failure. He also accused them of double standards pointing out that players like Podolski and Klose were never referred as Polish-German whilst mention was constantly made of his Turkish roots.

The news has been mixed with many supporting the World Cup winner for his stand against his mistreatment while the likes of Uli Hoeness and Lothar Matthaus have been unkind  to the 92 times capped player saying he wouldn’t be missed for Die Mannschaft. The news of Ozil has sparked a conversation about players with dual nationalities. The world has become so interconnected with many players now having the choice of playing for the country of their birth or the country of their origin. Nigeria have a number of players with dual nationalities like Leon Balogun, Brian Idowu and William Troost-Ekong. For players like Ozil, who was born and raised in Germany, they may be members of their society but will be looked different for where they come from despite what one may have achieved.

Ozil’s quote of “When we win, I am German, When we lose, I am an immigrant” is one that has proved resonant particularly in the migrant community. This hasn’t been helped by the wave of far-right Politicians and the Refugee Crisis. France, who just won the World Cup, largely consist of players who are children of immigrants or are immigrants themselves. Germany, when they won back in 2014 had a diverse squad as well featuring the likes of Klose, Podolski, Mustafi, Boateng, Khedira and Ozil. National Teams are reflections of the countries. With Ozil walking away, it’s a victory for those whose political alliances are built on identity politics. It was the same thing echoed against the famous France team of 1998.

This trend with dual nationality holders will not be going anyway anytime soon. Diversity as one of the foundations of today’s global village is incredibly fluid in the sense that whilst people are in touch with their heritag, they also identify largely with their countries of domicile. It’s just the thread for the modern footballer and it’s imperative that we’re able to accept it for what it is as opposed to falling into the trap of “otherizing” them.


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