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German football chief admits mistakes in handling Ozil-Erdogan photo

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BERLIN (AP) — The president of Germany’s football federation conceded he made mistakes in handling a controversy over Mesut Ozil’s photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but strongly rejected accusations of racism on Thursday.

Ozil announced his retirement from Germany’s national team on Sunday. He criticized the federation (DFB), president Reinhard Grindel, fans and media for what he regarded as racism in treating people with Turkish roots. He defended the pre-World Cup meeting with Erdogan, who draws widespread criticism in Germany for being increasingly authoritarian.

Ozil was particularly scathing about Grindel, who accused him and teammate Ilkay Gundogan of allowing themselves to be “exploited” by Erdogan for political purposes. After Germany’s embarrassing first-round exit from the World Cup, Grindel called for Ozil to provide an “answer” on the photo.

The Arsenal star said Grindel was “patronizing,” blasted what he called his “incompetence,” and asserted that “in the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

In his first personal response, Grindel said in a written statement he regretted the federation’s criticism of the photo “was abused for racist slogans.”

“In retrospect, I as president should have said unambiguously what is self-evident for me personally and for us all as a federation: Every form of racist hostility is intolerable and unacceptable.”

Grindel pushed back against being linked with racism, writing: “I reject this emphatically, for the federation and for myself personally.”

Grindel’s statement didn’t address his own future. The 56-year-old former lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party became DFB president in 2016.

He has faced calls to resign in recent days from critics who fault his crisis management. No senior German football officials have resigned over the World Cup debacle.

He did, however, say the DFB must “develop further” its work on integration and underlined the importance of winning the right to host the 2024 European Championship. Germany and Turkey are bidding for the tournament and UEFA’s executive committee will choose the host in September.

“The tournament could tell a new football tale, bring children to clubs, bring people even closer together — with and without immigrant roots,” Grindel wrote. “United by football.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s parliament speaker added his voice to criticism of how the DFB handled the Ozil case.

“I still don’t understand why people at the DFB allowed such an affair of state to be made out of such an ill-advised photo action,” Wolfgang Schaeuble told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group. “It’s a shame.”

Arsenal boss Emery wants club to ‘feel like home’ for Ozil

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Mesut Ozil was born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. But since leaving his hometown club Schalke 04 in 2008, Ozil has lived in Bremen, Germany and Madrid, Spain, before making the deadline-day move to Arsenal in 2013.

Living in London the last five years, it’s the longest span he’s been with one club since being a professional, and it’s fair to say that Ozil now calls Arsenal home. That’s exactly what Arsenal manager Unai Emery wants to see.

[READ: Man City looking to add new striker]

“All of us want to help Mesut feel like it is his home here with us, like a family and it is a family for every player,” Emery said in a press conference in Singapore, where Arsenal are spending part of the club’s preseason. “He feels here with us that he can work every day, and it is good for us that he decided to come here and work with us before our two matches.”

These comments come on the back of last weekend’s announcement from Ozil that he won’t wear the Germany shirt again, seemingly as long as DFB president Reinhard Grindel remains in charge. Grindel, a right wing politician in the past, as well as other German executives and former high-profile players criticized Ozil’s heritage and blamed it as a big reason for Germany’s failure at the 2018 World Cup.

Of course, with Ozil’s detailed allagations, it’s clear he doesn’t feel at home in Germany, which is to Arsenal’s gain. Having a player of Ozil’s quality fully focused on the club season can only help the Gunners, which are looking to make a big impact in a new era under a new manager for the first time since 1998.

Ozil returned to Arsenal’s squad for preseason training on Monday, and perhaps with a club that supports him and the fact that he doesn’t need to sacrifice for his national team for the time being, Arsenal fans will finally see the best he has to offer.

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing move to Bayern ]

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

It was for this reason that it appears Ozil has decided to retire from the German national team, which he announced via social media.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.

Ozil to be rested in final Germany friendly

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The German National Team technical staff is hoping some rest for Mesut Ozil will pay off once the World Cup begins.

Germany general manager Oliver Bierhoff said on Thursday that Ozil will be rested in Germany’s final World Cup preparation match against Saudi Arabia on Friday due to a bruised knee. Ozil has also struggled with some back issues in training camp, and is now in a race against time to be 100 percent fit for Germany’s World Cup opener on June 17 against Mexico.

[READ: World Cup Preview: Argentina]

Ozil is expected to be a key member in Germany’s attack as it looks to defend its World Cup title.

Arsenal great Keown questions Ozil’s lack of “energy”

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Arsenal’s falling out of the UEFA Europa League was the final blow to Arsene Wenger‘s chances of winning a title in 2017/18 as the Frenchman’s farewell tour with the Premier League giants continue.

However, the focus of Thursday’s 1-0 defeat (2-1 on aggregate) to Atletico Madrid wasn’t on Wenger, but instead his players — who were questions for their lack of desire.

One in particular was called out by Arsenal legend Martin Keown, who targeted Mesut Ozil and his lack of production not just in Madrid but on a number of occasions throughout the season.

“Show some drive,” Keown said. “Show some energy. He’s on the edge of it. It’s almost like his hand’s in the air — ‘Look at this group. [They] aren’t as good as me.’ And somebody needed to grab him a long time ago, to give him a shake and say, ‘We’re trying to get the ball to you. We are working for you, but you’re not working for us.’

“I bet he doesn’t play again this season. He’ll have some emotional breakdown and won’t be able to play at the weekend. I don’t know how many illnesses he’s had this season, but the fella is not kidding me. That is not a proper performance.”

Meanwhile, Keown suggested that the club’s next manager, whoever it may be, needs to only play Ozil based on merit and not the price tag in which Arsene Wenger invested in the Germany international.

“It’s a big problem for the new manager because Wenger’s invested an awful lot of money in this player and I’m not seeing a performance to go with it,” Keown said. “He wasn’t fit to wear the shirt for me tonight, and I’ve seen this a lot this season and it needs to be said because he needs to be dug out because we expect more from him. He’s a World Cup winner. These are crocodile tears that I’m seeing from the player. He’s not conning me.”