Mesut Ozil looks set to be the centre of yet another storm after he had dinner with Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday night.
The German was criticised relentlessly in his home country for meeting with the Turkish authoritarian before the Russia World Cup last summer. An argument could be made that the fallout from that impacted his season with Arsenal and, in the end, Ozil decided to walk away from international football in the wake of the uproar.
Speaking about why he met with Erdogan, Ozil was quite clear at the time, saying, “The past couple of weeks have given me time to reflect, and time to think over the events of the last few months.
“Consequently, I want to share my thoughts and feelings about what has happened.
“Like many people, my ancestry traces back to more than one country. Whilst I grew up in Germany, my family background has its roots firmly based in Turkey. I have two hears, one German and one Turkish.
“During my childhood, my mother taught me always to be respectful and to never forget where I came from, and these are still values that I think about to this day.
“In May, I met President Erdogan in London, during a charitable and educational event. We first met in 2010 after he and Angela Merkel watched the Germany vs Turkey match together in Berlin.
“Since then, our paths have crossed a lot of times around the globe. I’m aware that the picture of us caused a huge response in the German media, and whilst some people may accuse me of lying or being deceitful, the picture we took had no political intentions.
“As I said, my mother has never let me lose sight of my ancestry, heritage and family traditions.
“For me, having a picture with President Erdogan wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country. My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies.
“In fact, we spoke about the same topic that we do every time we have met – football – as he too was a player in his youth.
“Although the German media have portrayed something different, the truth is that not meeting with the President would have been disrespecting the roots of my ancestors, who I know would be proud of where I am today.
“For me, it didn’t matter who was President, it mattered that it was the President. Having respect for political office is a view I’m sure both the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May share when they too hosted Erdogan in London.
“Whether it had been the Turkish or German president, my actions would’ve been no different.”
Of course, there is simply no excuse or defence for the abuse that Ozil received following this meeting but, and I say this as a massive Ozil fanboy, to sit down with Erdogan at another dinner amid reports he has been invited to Ozil’s wedding sticks in the throat.
It is hard to claim you do not endorse the policies of a politician you are happy to be photographed with on more than one occasion.
While I understand Ozil’s sentiment above, I do feel at this point it is now something of a cop-out. His is, of course, a nuanced situation and Ozil’s heritage must be taken into account. That being said, he can be proud of his Turkish roots without pandering to an autocrat with serious issues around how he runs his country.
This might well send the message that Ozil is proud of his Turkish heritage, as he should be, but it also says he doesn’t care about the gross human rights violations taking place in the country under the direction of this president.
I was more than prepared to give Ozil the benefit of the doubt after the first meeting, but that seems impossible to do here.