Mesut Ozil and his principles split the fan base like no other player on the planet and regardless of your personal feelings towards the player, the midfielder’s decision to refuse a pay cut to save jobs seems to have been justified after Arsenal still managed to make 55 non-playing staff redundant.
At the time, his actions caused outrage at the boardroom level and it would be one of several reasons that would prevent him from pulling on an Arsenal jersey during the rebooted season.
His second controversy related to his refusal to adopt Arsenal’s support of the BLM campaign whilst the club chose to ignore the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, a story we covered in great detail three weeks before the Athletic. We disclosed that Ozil had pointed out to the club that there were no fundamental differences between his condemned post on social media in December last year and the much-heralded support of the BLM movement.
Yet, Ozil created a one-man storm that had the Arsenal hierarchy in a blind panic as China banished their televised games and that certainly meant the loss of viewing rights/payments and other commercial revenue. The club quickly distanced itself from those comments and took issue with the player who suddenly wasn’t a regular starter in the first team anymore.
Ozil’s interview with the Athletic made his position extremely clear:
“Every human is equal,” said Ozil, who is of the Islamic faith.
“It doesn’t matter what religion or colour you are — Muslim, Christian, Jew, black, white or anything else. We are all the same.”
“What I said was not against Chinese people, it was against whoever is doing this to the Uighur Muslims and other people who are not helping them, such as other Muslim countries.”
“I have given a lot to Arsenal, on and off the pitch, so the reaction was disappointing. They said they don’t get involved in politics but this isn’t politics and they have got involved in other issues.”
“In America, we saw George Floyd killed and the world spoke up to say Black Lives Matter, and that is correct. We are all equal and it’s a good thing that people fight against injustice. There are a lot of black players and fans of Arsenal and it’s fantastic the club is backing them.”
“But I wish people would have done the same for the Muslims because Arsenal have many Muslim players and fans as well, and it is important for the world to say that Muslim Lives Matter.”
You can’t argue with that, nor could you when Ozil pointed out the reasons for his reluctance to agree to a pay increase in the Ornstein article:
“As players, we all wanted to contribute,”
“But we needed more information and many questions were unanswered. Everyone was fine with a deferral while there was so much uncertainty — I would have been OK to take a bigger share — and then a cut if required, once the football and financial outlook was clearer. But we were rushed into it without proper consultation.”
“For anyone in this situation, you have a right to know everything, to understand why it is happening and where the money is going. But we didn’t get enough details, we just had to give a decision. It was far too quick for something so important and there was a lot of pressure.”
“This was not fair, especially for the young guys, and I refused. I had a baby at home and have commitments to my family here, in Turkey and in Germany — to my charities, too, and also a new project we started to support people in London that was from the heart and not for publicity.”
“People who know me know exactly how generous I am and, as far as I’m aware, I was not the only player who rejected the cut in the end, but only my name came out. I guess that’s because it is me and people have been trying for two years to destroy me, to make me unhappy, to push an agenda they hope will turn the supporters against me and paint a picture that is not true.”
“Possibly the decision affected my chances on the pitch, I don’t know. But I’m not afraid to stand up for what I feel is right — and when you see what has happened now with the jobs, maybe I was.”
It seems that in the last few years, Ozil has been the complete antithesis to Arsenal’s self-serving commercial values and many may now be thinking that the maverick playmaker has an undeniable point. So is he a trouble maker or hero?
You can’t be a trouble maker for sticking to your principles and Ozil has always had a strong internal moral compass. A hero? Perhaps, that would be praising him too much but the fact that he had the balls to stand firm knowing that he would be fed to the press and probably, ostracised by others within the club, is certainly to be admired.
No doubt, many of our regular readers will point out that Ozil can afford to have strong principles on £350,000 per week regardless of whether he plays or not, but it still takes guts to stand against the general consensus.
I suppose we would all look at this slightly differently had Ozil performed to the standards that he is surely capable of, by providing endless assists and scoring world-class goals. He may even be remembered more by some for his opinions than his undoubted skills, which is a shame.
The last sportsman I can remember that jeopardised their own career to this level was a certain Muhammad Ali and the appreciation he was due came much, much later. The difference here is that Muhammad Ali put in the performances as well as adhering to his principles, Ozil has so little time left to do that.