by Tony Attwood
I recently ran a little article here about Granit Xhaka which was taken from a Swiss newspaper and it created a little bit of interest I felt, not least because it gave a different interpretation to the piece from the way in which it was handled by the English media. (Although I was very sorry for all the extra work I gave Walter as he had to set out (very patiently I thought) exactly how many red cards certain players had had.)
So I thought I might try it again with an interview Mesut Özil has given in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (the South German newspaper) – and hope that I don’t give Walter another headache trying to correct misunderstandings (or my translation). So here we go.
The headline reads
“Even today I have to concentrate when I speak German”.
The essence of the story is that football helped Mesut with his integration, but he has still, inevitably, experienced a world that was also not free from resentment. It also makes the point that Mesut does not want to comment on the current tense political situation that has developed between Turkey and Germany, and one can certainly understand why.
When it comes to integration through sport in general, and football in particular, Mesut Özil is often taken as an example of how it can and should be done. But the interview reveals that for him it was very difficult to integrate in his first years of life.
Although Mesut was born in Germany he says that until the age of four he spoke exclusively Turkish. Instead of going to a kindergarten where he might have become integrated with German speaking children he went to a preparatory school, where “99.9 per cent were foreigners, and we spoke Turkish.” Only with the teacher did the children speak German. As a result he says that “It was not easy for me to learn German, and even today [at the age of 28] I have to concentrate when I speak German.”
Özil, however, denies that he grew up in a “Turkish bubble” saying that, “I did not feel that at all. For me, Germany was my home from the outset.” He also says that he still gets homesick and for his home town of Gelsenkirchen.
“I am very grateful that I have both cultures in my heart, so I could sort out the best, so to speak,” Özil said in the newspaper interview. “But, of course, this is a life-long task for every immigrant child to live a bit like two worlds.” He does add in the interview however that the Arsenal team sees itself rather as a mixture of cultures and the group enjoys that feeling.
Thus football helped Özil to integrate into the German culture, but also here, as within life in general he had to realize that the sport itself is not free from resentment. “I’ve never been an outsider, but I’ve always had to be a bit better than my German team-mates, and I have not had so many chances as others.
“It was not a disadvantage however, that was okay, so I got better. And finally, football opened the world for me.”
But the fame that his success has brought him has inevitably provided its own problems with the issues that many young men who achieve fame experience in terms of “false friends” and the like.
“The further you rise up, the more people want something from you,” he said. And so inevitably in the course of his career, he has had to deal with people who “want to profit from me” and “who wanted to do business with me. It came out at some point that they were not my friends, but they used me.”
And so, inevitably, he has ensured that he has only had people around him, whom he trusted to one hundred percent. It is, I think, the same story for so many brilliant footballers.
In addition to false friends, Özil has actively avoided making political statements especially in relation to the current tense political situation between Germany and Turkey. His response to all questions on this issue is that he does not want to offer an opinion, but instead only sees himself as a footballer. “I do not talk about politics,” is his answer, adding that he does not want to provoke anyone.
“No matter what I say, it’s going to go badly with some people, so I do not want to get involved in that,” said Özil in the interview. But he also emphasised the good relationships and good feeling that exists within the national team: “I can only say that in the German national team, people with German, Turkish, Tunisian, Ghanaian and Polish roots, all respect each other totally, and I also wish for my daily life.”
Earlier on Untold
- Xhaka: “I was made to look like a mindless idiot”. The player the English media won’t ever let you see.
- Journalists seek to up their game by removing the next Arsenal manager before he starts