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FOOTBALL

Five key dates in the Mesut Özil saga

Here are the key moments that culminated in Mesut Özil's bombshell announcement he was retiring from international football after a career including Germany's triumph at the 2014 World Cup.

Five key dates in the Mesut Özil saga
Özil and Gündogan in Sotchi on 26th June. Photo: DPA

Erdogan meeting

The fiasco started on May 13 when Özil and fellow Germany midfielder Ilkay Gündogan met Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London during a charity gala event.

Both players posed for pictures with Erdogan, who they presented with shirts of their respective clubs Arsenal and Manchester City, the latter of which was signed “for my president” by City star Gündogan.

The photos were released on social media by Erdogan's election campaign team on May 14th, the day before the Germany squad for the World Cup finals was announced.

Gündogan posted on Instagram to say the pictures were not a “political statement”, but Özil kept silent.

They were heavily criticised by German politicians and football pundits, while Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German FA (DFB), said the players had allowed themselves to be “manipulated”.

World Cup call-up

Despite heavy criticism in Germany of the controversial pictures, head coach Joachim Löw named both Özil and Gündogan in his provisional World Cup squad on May 15th.

“Not for a second” had Löw thought of leaving them out, despite calls for the pair to be dropped.

On May 19th, Özil and Gündogan meet Löw and senior DFB officials, plus German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin, in a failed attempt to clear up the matter.

Steinmeier said both players affirmed their loyalty to Germany during the meeting.

“I grew up here and I'm faithful to my country,” Özil was quoted by Steinmeier as saying, while Gündogan added, “Germany is today clearly my country and my team”.

Jeers and whistles

Özil and Gündogan were jeered and whistled by travelling German fans during a 2-1 friendly defeat away to Austria in Klagenfurt on June 2nd, despite Özil scoring the opening goal.

Özil sat out the narrow friendly win over Saudi Arabia six days later in Leverkusen, but Gündogan was booed when he came on and reportedly later wept in the German dressing room.

Bierhoff blunder

Former Germany captain Lothar Matthaeus said Özil no longer seemed comfortable playing in the Germany shirt in the wake of the shock 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the opening World Cup game.

Löw then dropped Özil for the last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden, but reinstated him for the 2-0 defeat to South Korea which saw the holders crash out in the group stages.

In an interview on July 6th in newspaper Welt, Germany's team director Oliver Bierhoff implied Özil should have been left out of the World Cup squad – then back-tracked in an embarrassing twist.

Two days later, Grindel says Özil should make his position clear to German fans in magazine Kicker, while Özil's father rejected the criticism and says his son should retire from Germany duty.

Özil quits

After scoring 23 goals in 92 matches for Germany, Özil retired from international football with immediate effect on July 22th after breaking his silence in lengthy posts on Twitter and Instagram.

“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,” he wrote.

“The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt.

“I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten.

“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

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FOOTBALL

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.

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