Mesut Ozil has defended his controversial photo with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying it wasn’t about politics but about respecting the office of the presidency.
Ozil has been heavily criticised in Germany for his meeting with Erdogan in May, when he and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan posed for a photo with the Turkish president during his visit to London.
The past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect, and time to think over the events of the last few months. Consequently, I want to share my thoughts and feelings about what has happened. pic.twitter.com/WpWrlHxx74
— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 22, 2018
Both Ozil and Gundogan have Turkish roots, but the German football federation has said the meeting was ill-advised. Ozil’s performances at the World Cup were also heavily scrutinised in wake of the controversy, with Germany going out in the group stage.
The Arsenal midfielder finally broke his silence on the issue on Sunday by posting a statement on social media insisting that he had done nothing wrong.
“I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intensions,” Ozil wrote. “For me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country.”
The statement was posted as Arsenal were preparing to fly to Singapore for a preseason tour, with Ozil having joined up with the squad just in time for the trip following his post-World Cup holiday.
Earlier this month, the head of the German football federation, Reinhard Grindel, had said Ozil owed fans an explanation for his actions when he returned from holiday.
Ozil said “the past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect” on the situation — adding that having been born in Germany to a Turkish family means that “I have two hearts, one German and one Turkish.”
And he explained that his mother taught him as a child to “never forget where I came from.”
“Although the German media have portrayed something different, the truth is that not meeting with the President would have been disrespecting the roots of my ancestors, who I know would be proud of where I am today,” his statement said. “For me it didn’t matter who was President, it mattered that it was the President.
“Having respect for political office is a view that I’m sure both the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May share when they too hosted Erdogan in London. Whether it had been the Turkish or the German President, my actions would have been no different.”
Ozil went on to highlight the charity work he did while in Russia, which included paying for surgeries for 23 children — a similar venture to one he undertook in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.
He also said several of his commercial partners abandoned him during the media storm, including an unnamed charitable partner and his former school in Gelsenkirchen, who cancelled an event he was set to attend before the World Cup.
He also criticised Mercedes, which has a long-standing sponsorship deal with Ozil and the German football federation. The statement didn’t mention the car-maker by name but made a scathing reference to the German government ordering the company to recall more than 200,000 vehicles because of unathorised software devices.
“I was renounced by another partner,” Ozil wrote. “As they are also a sponsor of the DFB, I was asked to take part in promotional videos for the World Cup. Yet after my picture with President Erdogan, they took me out of the campaigns and cancelled all promotional activities that were scheduled. For them, it was no longer good to be seen with me, and called the situaiton ‘crisis management.’
“This is all ironic because a German Ministry declared their products have illegal and unauthorized software devices in them, which puts customers at risk. … Am I right in thinking this is worse than a picture with the President of my family’s country? What does the DFB have to say about all this.”