Mesut Özil has not played with the German team since the last World Cup. Shortly after the disaster in Russia 2018, the talented player announced his retirement from the mannschaft at just 29 years old. The reason? He did not feel backed by the German federation when he received a barrage of criticism for being photographed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ever-controversial figure who ended up being a witness at his wedding.
The world champion in Brazil 2014 went further. In a farewell statement, he explained that he came to feel "racism" and "lack of respect" towards his Turkish roots from the DFB (German Football Federation), a compelling reason that forced him to make that decision.
Four years later, Özil was once again the protagonist in a match in Germany... without being present on the field. The former Real Madrid soccer player slipped into the tie against Spain, specifically in the stands. In the Al Bayt stadium, dozens of Qatari fans used the image of the current Basaksehir footballer from Turkey to replicate the covered mouth of the Germans on the day of his debut, a protest gesture that made the emirate very uncomfortable.
Mostly dressed in their traditional 'thoub', these spectators held drawn images of Özil or photographs of him wearing the colors of the German team, imitating Hansi Flick's footballers on the day against Japan: covering their mouths.
This gesture that went around the world denounced the censorship of FIFA, which threatened to penalize the captains of the teams that wore the bracelet with the One Love motto in Qatar. The initiative was intended to support the LGTBQ collective, persecuted in a country with still many democratic and human rights deficiencies.
"I am German when we win, but an immigrant when we lose," Özil, a practicing Muslim of Turkish parents but born in Germany, once said, like his compatriot Ilkay Gündogan, also photographed with Erdogan although in his case he kept more to the margin of controversy.
In fact, the Manchester City midfielder is still playing with the Teutons. After the draw with Spain, he said that he did not want to talk about politics after those images of Özil in the stands. He just wants to focus on football. "Qatar is very proud to host the World Cup. It is the first Muslim country and I come from a Muslim family, so the Muslim community is proud," he commented. On the day of the photo, like the rest of his classmates, Gundogan also put his hand to his mouth.