When Uli Hoeneß spoke to the media on Monday, for once the topic wasn’t his FC Bayern. Maybe – like so many times in the more recent past – it would have been better had the Bayern president simply not said anything.
But he did say something about Özil retiring from the German national team and his harsh criticism of DFB. The way he said the things he said was unacceptable and showed that he hadn’t understood a word of what Özil had talked about.
Hoeneß’ reaction to a sensitive debate that deserves much more tact — was populism. Tact, simply put, is just not part of his emotional portfolio. Instead, he got flustered and loud.
“I’m glad this whole scare is over now. He had been playing crap for years. The last time he won a tackle was before the 2014 World Cup. […] You need to reduce the whole debate back down to what it is: sport. And from a sporting point of view, Özil hasn’t had a place in the national team for years.”
Uli Hoeneß, talking to Sport Bild and Bild, via sueddeutsche.de
Mirror of society
He’s not alone in his views, however. There is a lot of irony in the fact that Grindel, of all people, who had loudly clamoured for Özil to give a statement, has now become the (former) international player’s main target. Incompetency and racism are only two of the accusations that Özil has thrown at the DFB president. And the association’s recent developments support him in that.
It should have been clear to everyone, even before the statement, that DFB had failed miserably and comprehensibly. The association hadn’t found a clear strategy of dealing with the pictures that Gündogan and Özil had taken with Erdogan, and neither a way forward into an objective debate.
Instead, there was talk about values that the association supposedly stands for. But which values are those? In the end, it was all empty phrases that clearly show double standards.
Matthäus with Putin (German source), Mercedes Benz, Grindel’s past – Özil selected several rotten cherries that sit on top of the yummy cake that DFB would like to be. This step surely took him a lot of courage, but ideally should kick-start something.
It was clear to many that the long breaks between Özil’s statements were nothing but PR strategy. And they were – but for good reason. The player and his management likely wanted people to talk about each statement during the breaks. Otherwise, his criticisms would have been drowned in the hubbub around his retirement announcement.
DFB had tried to take Özil out of the conversation around the controversial issues completely, to try and protect itself. If the player is to be believed, the intention was never to put the mighty association in front of Özil.
They wanted to hush up the whole thing. The lack of positioning, however, eventually became their downfall. The player felt treated badly, and the media surrounding DFB got excluded, as well; a move that could hardly be overdone by anyone in terms of naivety and arrogance.
It got worse when the association had kind of decided on keeping Mesut Özil, and he then got attacked racially in public. The team’s bad performance during the World Cup made Özil the victim of the public’s frustration. Basler, far-right party AfD, BILD – they’re only three examples of many who blamed him.
The German FA and its lack of self reflection
The DFB should have positioned itself clearly here again, should have stood up for its players. Against racism and against populism. But the opposite happened. The FA in the form of Bierhoff and Grindel dropped Özil and put him in the socks.
At everyone’s mercy. Now everyone could have a go. The scapegoat was found.
Özil’s statement accentuates that impression even more. He’s not staging himself. He’s also not trying to force himself into a victim role. No, he’s holding a mirror up to the public in Germany that clearly reveals racism in the country.
In many places, this racism is shockingly open. Even more shocking, however, is the latent and subtle racism that one sees daily on the streets, just by opening one’s eyes wide enough. Özil was and is a plaything for these racists.
For the DFB, there can only be one consequence in the future: they have to have a re-shuffle. Grindel, as president, is no longer tolerable. Bierhoff, too, cannot remain unchallenged after his mistakes and statements.
The FA, which was still seen as a connection between cultures in 2010, provides tension in 2018. It gives racism a platform and that is far sadder than any sporting defeat.
That Mesut Özil showed little self-reflection with his statement, and seems not to have questioned his photo action, is another story. He was, at least, naïve, and his justification confirmed that the deserved criticism went completely over his head. Maybe also as a result of them being drowned in the noise of populism.
His retirement, however, is a bitter pill to swallow for Germany. Because it gives people like Uli Hoeneß the chance to dump their populistic garbage on Özil’s shoulders. Because it allows the AfD to raise its profile at Özil’s cost.
“…despite paying taxes in Germany, donating facilities to German schools and winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, I am still not accepted into society. I am treated as being ‘different’.”
Mesut Özil via Instagram
Because he has put a megaphone in the hands of Nazis who are thus able to reach football fans who have had a problem with Özil for some time now.
Because so far no debate has arisen that not just the DFB could really do with having, but also the country could do with having. A debate that we have to face together.
And Uli Hoeneß is not the only one who still hasn’t got that.
Translators: Bettina and Sam.