The Mesut Ozil story: A footballing power lets itself down
Everything that has transpired in the lead up to Mesut Ozil's shock retirement from international football has been the exact opposite of what the word Mannschaft means. It is the collective name of the German national football team and it is a military term signifying camaraderie, standing up for one another in the toughest of times. Instead, a five-time German footballer of the year (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016) has had his German-ness questioned.
One photograph has changed the dynamic of a team that was not only an unbeatable World Champion four years ago, but the outright favourite to win it all again in 2018. A photograph taken on the sidelines of a charitable and educational event in London with the elected leader of Turkey has been deemed responsible for Germany's footballing misfortune. For a nation that prides itself on being iron-willed and mentally the strongest of all European countries, this seems like the flimsiest of scapegoating excuses.
All underperformers cleared with one stroke of the media's pen
This line of thinking has absolved underperformers such as Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Timo Werner, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, and Joshua Kimmich with one broad stroke of the German media's powerful pen.
People including German greats of the past (even those who have never won a World Cup) have quickly forgotten the quality of play on the pitch and instead have given in to the temptation of an easy blame-it-on-the-guy-with-Turkish-ancestors. As if Ozil made the choice of his ancestry when he was born.
Not the first time he has met and presented his shirt to the Turkish leader
In December 2011, when Ozil met with the same Turkish leader and presented him with a signed Real Madrid jersey, there was absolutely no noise of indignation from the German Football Federation. In fact, the German Chancellor herself has watched a football match seated with the Turkish leader, and was instrumental in introducing Ozil to him.
However, the head of the German Football Federation seems to have let things get far out of hand. Instead of standing by a player who was a German footballer of the year five times in the last eight years, he has chosen to side with the forces that have threatened to stretch the fabric of Germany's integrative immigration model beyond repair.
German strike-force was not good enough to take advantage of chances created
A footballing nation that has grown accustomed to the heroics of Miroslav Klose in the last four World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014), is unabashedly blind to see the link in the Mannschaft chain that was missing in the 2018 World Cup. Klose is Germany's all-time leading scorer in World Cup matches, as well as all international matches. His predatory instincts in front of goal made the likes of Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, et al look much better than they may really have been.
Now, contrast that with Timo Werner who was found out to be quite one-dimensional in this World Cup, and the forlorn figure of Mario Gomez who has never achieved his so-called potential with the national team. The lack of striker pedigree cost Germany more than anything in this World Cup.
The midfielders created the most chances among all teams in the group stage, yet the strikers were unable to put them away. Germany's two goals were scored by Marco Reus and Toni Kroos (an incredible once-in-a-lifetime free-kick). So only one goal was scored in open play.
In the match against South Korea alone, Ozil created seven gilt-edged chances for his teammates, which were spurned from every angle. The worst of the culprits was Mats Hummels in the dying minutes of the match who missed the easiest of headers which would have put Germany through to the knockout stage to play against Brazil.
Joachim Low has to take the blame for not trusting his Confederations Cup winners
A team that visibly lacked pace in midfield and up front was exposed time and again on the counter-attack by speedier players. Germany rode its next generation of pacy, skillful footballers to Confederations Cup victory just a year ago against full-strength squads put out by the other continental champions.
During the World Cup, whenever Julian Brandt came on he looked more threatening in those five minutes of football than Mario Gomez or Timo Werner looked over 85 minutes of headless meandering around. This malaise was visible in the first game against Mexico and should have been rectified instead of leaving out Ozil against Sweden. Despite winning that game, Germany did everything to lose that match.
Against South Korea, in the final group game, when Low knew he would be facing pacy counter-attacks, he still stuck with the same formula instead of injecting pace of his own. Starts for the likes of Brandt, Draxler, and Gundogan would have been bold statements of intent from one of the most innovative football managers of the last decade.
The German team that beat the likes of England 4-1, and Argentina 4-0 in the 2010 World Cup was built on confidence in youth and scared the lives out of these footballing giants with their pace in possession and attack.
Can Ozil be persuaded back into the fold, or does the DFB even want him back?
The German Football Federation's leadership seems to have green-lighted Ozil's departure not so much by asking him to leave, but by its actions. Ozil has been known to be a sensitive individual by nature by all the managerial greats who have seen his talent and nurtured it to fruition; Jose Mourinho, Joachim Low, Arsene Wenger, etc.
If he suffered a loss of form in the run-up to the World Cup due to a back injury (for which he took time off from Arsenal's last few games of the Premier League season), it is now being blamed on one photograph that he took in order to let his mother know that he hasn't forgotten the country of her birth.
The questions now arise whether Ozil is needed back in the German national team or will he want to come back? He has served Germany to the fullest and was the player with the longest run of consecutive starts (26) in big tournaments dating back to 2010 before being dropped for the game against Sweden. He was instrumental in Germany getting to the knockout rounds in the 2010 World Cup (remember his screamer against Ghana in the 1-0 win that allowed Germany to progress?), and beyond.
He is a World Cup winner, along with being the assist leader at least in one season in every top football league he has plied his trade in. If the German Football Federation cannot see the value in keeping such a player in the wings even as a mentor to future generations, it seems the way forward for German football will not be built on its model of integration so hyped by the German political leadership when the team won the World Cup in 2014.
It seems Ozil is right when he says he is German enough when the team is winning, but when the squad loses, he is consigned to association with the country of his ancestry instead of the country of his birth.