German Turks warn of racism in anger following World Cup flop

Since Germany humiliatingly crashed out of the World Cup, a team member with Turkish roots has faced a hailstorm of criticism that Muslim and migrant groups charge is openly racist.

German Turks warn of racism in anger following World Cup flop
Özil playing at an English Premier League match in December 2016.

Mesut Özil, 29, quickly become a scapegoat for far-right populists, but the
storm escalated when even German football bosses, rather than defend him, suggested the squad may have been better off without him.

At the heart of the storm is a political controversy that flared before the World Cup started, when Özil and his team mate Ilkay Gundogan posed for photos with Turkey's authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The incident sparked heated debate on whether the young men felt greater loyalty to their birth country Germany or to Turkey, the ancestral home of their families and of a three-million-strong minority group.

While Gundogan, 27, who plays for Manchester City, voiced dismay about the controversy, Özil, an Arsenal midfielder, further infuriated critics by staying silent on the Erdogan affair.

Özil, a key player in Germany's victorious campaign in Brazil in 2014, and Gundogan endured jeers and boos on the pitch which, according to Bild daily, reduced Gundogan to tears in the locker room.

But the anger escalated after Germany's shock first-round defeat to South Korea dismayed the football-mad nation.

SEE ALSO: 'Scapegoat' Özil should quit German team, says father

First off the mark was the anti-Islam and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has long railed against Chancellor Angela Merkel's welcoming stance to refugees.

AfD lawmaker Jens Maier charged bluntly that “Without Özil we would have won!” in a tweet that also featured a picture of a smiling Özil and the words “Are you satisfied, my president?”

Charges of disloyalty

The far-right AfD has risen to prominence with such shrill provocations, repeatedly suggesting that the national team should be made up of white, ethnic Germans.

But Muslim and other minority groups see the broader finger-pointing as a sign of a dangerous societal drift to the right at a time when immigration is a hot-button political issue.

Cihan Sinanoglu of the Turkish community in Germany told news agency DPA
that the charges of disloyalty confirmed many Germans in their belief that “integration and multiculturalism have failed”.

The issue came to a head last week when German Football Association (DFB)
bosses, rather than try to defuse the situation, suggested the team may have
done better without Özil.

The head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, called
for DFB president Reinhard Grindel and team director Oliver Bierhoff to resign.

Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where the players grew up, also slammed the DFB chiefs.

“The notion that a photo with Erdogan is to blame for the defeat against football giants South Korea,” he said, “is an idea only DFB officials could come up with – after three weeks of pondering the issue”.

'In the crossfire'

Greens party politician Cem Ozdemir said that, although the Erdogan picture was a “grave mistake”, it did not justify the “clearly racist criticism” and accused the DFB of “cowardice”.

Author Baha Gungor said Özil “is suffering the fate of hundreds of thousands of Turkish-born young people in Germany, who have totally integrated but, because they are also committed to their Turkish roots, always end up back in the crossfire”.

Speaking to a Cologne newspaper, he cited a similar example from France where player Karim Benzema, who has Algerian roots, had once remarked: “If I score, I am a Frenchman. If I miss, I am an Arab”.

He pointed out that after racist attacks against Swedish international Jimmy Durmaz, who has Syrian roots, the entire Swedish team had backed their teammate and shouted “Fuck Racism”.

“And in Germany? Here, the racism raining down on the two players is still met with silence, a scapegoat is being sought by those who want to distract from their own failure”.

Özil's 50-year-old father Mustafa told newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Bierhoff's “insult … serves to save his own skin” but had left his son “crestfallen, disappointed and offended”.

“We used to say that if we win, we win together. But now that we lost, we
lost because of Özil?”

“If I were in his place, I would say thank you, but I'm done. The hurt has been too much. In Mesut's place, I would step down”.

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.