Former Arsenal star Mesut Ozil has retired as one of football’s most polarizing figures

Mesut Ozil was a vessel through which issues of immigration, religion and human rights were broken down. He ends his career as one of the most fascinating and polarizing footballers of the 21st century.

Perhaps no footballer’s career has been more of a prism for age issues than that of Mesut Ozil, who ended yesterday (Wednesday) at the age of 34. During his 18 years, Ozil became a vessel. that broke through issues of immigration, religion, human rights, financial solidarity, millennial masculinity, populist politics, and new forms of media and their exponential reach.

He retires as one of the most exciting and polarizing footballers of the 21st century. nay, though it will in time seem a legitimate aspiration, one of the best.

It’s easy to forget that the player who came to stand for so many other things – false dawns, dashed hopes, broken dreams of integration – was once just a brilliant young footballer. Ozil was undoubtedly the genius child at Werder Bremen, the leading assistant in Spanish football for three seasons at Real Madrid and, of course, the crown prince and poster boy of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team.

In retrospect, it was probably the pinnacle of his career. The German philosopher Martin Gessmann baptized him “Kafka on the grass”. For his symbolic significance as a successful Turkish-German, Ozil, the grandson of a Gastarbeiter (migrant worker), received an honorary award at a lavish German media ceremony. significant vulnerability. For most of his later career, he was where the shots were supposed to be.

Ozil’s £42.5m move to Arsenal in September 2013 is likely to be an expensive failure, which is only partly true. Ozil was brilliant for most of his Arsenal career. one of the most inventive and imaginative players in English football in his prime. His total of 19 assists in one season (2015-16) has only been surpassed by Thierry Henry and Kevin De Bruyne in the Premier League era (2015-16) and he has shown moments of artistry and illumination that have enthralled and enthralled, but also, it’s probably fair to say. that Ozil has never really, consistently progressed beyond being a ‘moment’ player.

He was also a person out of time. In the early days of his Arsenal career, the landscape of English football was seismically altered by Ozil’s doctrine of rapacious high pressing imported from his homeland. Suddenly, the power and strength that reigned were as important as vision and creativity. Doubts were cast on the so-called “luxury” playmakers who didn’t contribute much defensively.

After Ozil signed a £350,000-a-week contract extension, he began to be seen as a millstone and eventually his club found themselves at the same judgement. When football returned from the Covid-19 lockdown in June 2020, Mikel Arteta banished Ozil from the first-team, a move that appeared to be a pivotal moment in Arsenal’s construction of a new era.

It was not only on the pitch that Ozil became a source of complications. In the early years of his career, he was a laconic and apolitical figure who seemed to have little interest or desire for messages attached to him.

However, after Germany’s exit from the 2018 World Cup, when Ozil was criticized with vicious and sometimes blatantly racist remarks, things changed. He explosively quit the national team, alleging discrimination by the media and the German FA and claiming he was treated as “German when we win, Turkish when we lose”.

The affair seemed to spark something in Ozil, who was, for better or worse, one of football’s most political players in the second half of his career. He spoke out against China’s repressive treatment of the Uyghur minority, forcing China’s state broadcaster to blackout Arsenal games.

He resisted Arsenal’s efforts to force players to take pay cuts during Covid, sought assurances over the future of the club’s non-playing staff and championed the case of Jerry Q, the man in the Gunnersaurus suit who was sacked.

But he has also increasingly aligned himself with President Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian leader, undermining his moral authority on other issues. And as a footballer, he slipped into irrelevance. Ozil is three years younger than his former Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric, but after two forgettable years in Turkey, plagued by injuries, he is stepping away from the stage, ending one of football’s most extraordinary and enigmatic careers.

Originally published as Mesut Ozil is leaving. Sophisticated genius left football behind

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