As Mesut Ozil trudged off the pitch against South Korea, a few fans hurled insults in his direction.
He’d just been part of the first ever German team to crash out in the group stages of a World Cup and he knew, if the last few weeks had anything to go by, that his life was about to get worse.
Before the World Cup kicked off in Russia, Mesut Ozil made a terrible error of judgement. For whatever reason, one he is refusing to explain, Ozil posed with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
With Turkish ancestry, it initially doesn’t seem like a strange thing to do. But coming on the eve of the World Cup, with the German nation already concerned about their team that looked like it was going through the motions, what might have been easily dismissed as stupidity from Ozil for posing with someone like Erdogan, turned into a major national incident.
Chancellors and MPs got involved. Pundits across the country called for Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who was also present, to be dropped from the team. Gundogan spoke about his regret, but Mesut Ozil stayed silent.
It is perhaps that which is hurting him the most.
Used to being a scapegoat since his move to Arsenal, Ozil has had a rough ride in the British press over the past five years or so. But he has always been loved by the German fans.
Year after year they vote him fans’ player of the season. If he has been poor this season, and there’s no argument that he has, then all those awards, all that stockpiled love and respect should at least buy him some leeway.
But that has not happened.
The German press and fans have turned swiftly.
They call him dispassionate, not interested in the national team even though his body language now is the same as when he helped craft Germany’s World Cup win just four years ago.
Others in the squad for Russia were significantly worse than Ozil, but he is the one that Lothar Matthaus says should not have been selected for the tournament in the first place.
It is striking, then, given how upset Germans like Matthaus have been with Mesut Ozil, to see Matthaus himself posing with Vladimir Putin. It is the same sort of shot that Ozil stood for with Erdogan, albeit Matthaus is not alone.
Just so we're clear, Putin OK, but Erdogan not? Asking for a bug-eyed friend… pic.twitter.com/sn9qvTAIBW
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) July 7, 2018
Is it ok to pose with one megalomaniac but not another?
Is there a sliding scale that tells us Putin is OK, but Erdogan is an authoritarian too far?
This seems like something we should all be on the same page about if we’re going to start castigating folks all over the media for meeting with the wrong wannabe-dictators.
I’ve no intention of defending Ozil for meeting with Erdogan, nor do I have any truck with defending Erdogan in any fashion. But what is the difference between these two events?
Why has one been covered as a normal football happening while the other was a major incident that caused comment to shift to the news pages and Angela Merkel to have to have a private meeting with the players involved?
Will anyone be sitting down with Alex Scott and Rio Ferdinand, who stood with Putin at a time when UK diplomats are not engaging with their Russian counterparts and the UK government have refused all invitations to attend the World Cup?
I doubt it…nor do I imagine anyone from the German FA will be having a word with Matthaus.
It’s probably all Mesut Ozil’s fault anyway…