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Mesut Özil speaks about his childhood and his life in football

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. 

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“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


9 comments to Mesut Özil speaks about his childhood and his life in football

  • WalterBroeckx

    according to who scored he got one red card in his career. At Real Madrid for making a gesture towards the ref in a match against Villareal. 😉

  • Mike T

    You tease Walter for Ozil has been sent off 3 times.All straight reds

    Once whilst playing for Werder Bremen in 2008/9 and twice whilst playing for Real in 20011/12 once in the league and once in the super cup

  • MickHazel

    He sounds as though he is a thoughtful, sensitive kind of person from his comments in this interview, an impression I had already formed from observing him since he joined Arsenal.

  • WalterBroeckx

    So he came with a bit of a reputation… 😉
    Note to myself: never trust who scored anymore

  • Mike T

    Walter indeed in 165 domestic games prior to moving to Arsenal booked 19 times sent off 3.

    At Arsenal he’s played 119 domestic games no sending offs and 5 bookings.

  • omgarsenal

    When I was in Germany, there was significant suspicion and dislike of their Turkish minority by many citizens,despite most of the Turks being native-born Germans and speaking fluent German as well. When I officiated minor league and amateur games there, I heard negative and prejudicial comments from fellow officials and parents about some of the Turkish players. I also heard criticisms and intolerance from Germans about ordinary Turkish-German fellow citizens, much like some racists in the US talk about blacks and other minorities. Ozil has done a great deal to assuage these prejudices but they are still strong and still expressed openly.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    In any mixed community ,there will always be peer pressure, either to conform to certain set ideals and aspirations of that particular community , or failing which, not to rock the boat overtly . Nor to set a poor example that may lead to ridicule and bias.

    Taking the middle path often has often more pressure , as one side or the other make certain demands (unjustly,of course)of you . A very firm and committed person could avoid all this by making their stance crystal clear,while at the same time indicating that their personal space is off limits . I don’t carry banners for others .

    As a rule I don’t discuss politics or religion with most. I’ll walk away from any too rabid or ridiculous discussion without any hesitation .While I may be tempted in wanting to correct anything that I may perceive as being not factual , still, I do refrain so as not to cause conflict or confrontation .

    I just tell myself that its not worth the aggravation . I often recollect this scene from Hamburger Hill, and tell myself , ” It doan mean nuttin’ !”

    On this site , I just say with jokes and humour .That many of ‘them’ types won’t get it , is just too bad.

  • para

    Mesut’s character seems to fit right into Arsenal’s way. And we know that a character strong person is always attacked by the “bully” boys who start to feel threatened because they know inside they just do not measure up. It happens all over.
    Including to Arsenal.

    ATV is petitioning Arsenal to allow a singing section (a la) Dtmd at Arsenal and is trying to create a section to rally the players and create an atmospheres at Arsenal. Good idea me thinks.

    Anyway, Arsenal now has their last “games” of the season coming up, ManC twice, Spuds, and later on Manu.

    Three games to recapture some of the gloss that has worn off of Arsenal lately. Imagine 4 good wins against them, Whaat?

    I dare say it is the performance of the team including AW that will set the trend for the coming season and beyond. Or Not.

  • Vanya Dickens

    I have plenty of Turkish friends here in London who were born in the UK but of Turkish or Cypriot heritage (if that’s the correct word ) and when we talk about topics of whether you feel more British or Turkish, most say the latter. Some of my friends have never even been to Turkey or Cyprus – but at home they speak the language mixed up with English, they eat the food of their heritage and they support Turkey when England plays them. That’s how they feel. That’s the beast of life.