Footballer of Turkish descent Mesut Oezil (pictured) “scored his best goal against the fascist virus” by leaving the German national team, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Monday.
Other Turkish ministers too hailed Oezil’s decision to quit after German officials and media raised doubts about his loyalty to the national team by citing his Turkish origins and his photo with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a function in May.
The photo was subject of an intense debate even before the World Cup started in Russia and many questioned Oezil’s inclusion in the national team.
After Germany’s shocking early exit from the tournament in 80 years, national media and officials started blaming him.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Oezil said his photo with Erdogan had nothing to do with politics or the recent elections in Turkey. He, along with a teammate of Turkish descent Ilkay Gundogan, met Erdogan at a function, discussed football and their photo only showed his deep respect for the highest office in the land of his ancestors.
But the photo drew jeers even before the World Cup kicked off. Politicians and football federation officials said it showed Oezil’s lack of respect for German values.
Oezil said his mother always told him to proudly remember his ancestry, heritage and family traditions. He has two hearts, one German and one Turkish.
Without realising these facts, the German football federation and its president Reinhard Grindel were trying to make him a scapegoat for Germany’s humiliating exit which is a reflection of Grindel’s incompetence.
Grindel and his supporters called him a ‘German’ when they won and an ‘immigrant’ when they lost, Oezil said, adding that he felt unwanted by the national team.
Oezil and his family had received several hate mails, threatening phone calls and social media abuse.
Turkey’s Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu said federal ministers support Oezil. Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin questioned Germany’s courtesy, tolerance and pluralism.
The Turkish Football Federation on Tuesday announced its support for Oezil and condemned the treatment he was subjected to as well as the threats and messages that have vilified him because of his Turkish roots.
Ties between Berlin and Ankara soured after a failed coup in Turkey following which Erdogan’s government started a crackdown on judges, civil servants, journalists and other suspects.