Arsene Wenger has weighed in on Mesut Özil's World Cup failure, after the Arsenal and Germany star attracted fierce criticism in his home country for his poor performances in Die Mannschaft's shambolic campaign.
Both Özil and Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan were caught up in a storm of controversy before the tournament when they met with controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, giving him club shirts in a photo opportunity in the UK.
Özil was taken to pieces by the German media and fans after a 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the first match, and was dropped for the win over Sweden - only to be brought back into the side to play 90 minutes in the 2-0 defeat to South Korea, which knocked the reigning champions out of the tournament.
Speaking to beIN Sports, Wenger said: "I know Ozil well, he's an exceptional football player. Him and Gundogan suffered with what happened before the World Cup because they have been vindicated in Germany.
"When I watched him play, I could feel there were situations in the game where he could have moved forward, progressed and played more vertical. He played security. I was thinking come on, that is not the real Ozil I know, the guy who can kill.
From a footballing point of view the WC was a huge disappointment. Nevertheless I am very happy Big Shoe and I were able to assist children with bad heart defects to the best possible treatment in #Rus 🙏🏼 Thx to the whole team around heart surgeon Prof. Vogt #EurasiaHeart pic.twitter.com/Makg4v1Z8M— Mesut Özil (@MesutOzil1088) July 5, 2018
"He played alright, but he didn't play with complete freedom and played with the handbrake on this World Cup. Gundogan didn't even play at all and he's a great player."
German FA chief Reinhard Grindel has called upon Özil to explain himself for the photographs with Erdogan in recent days, telling Kicker: "It's true that Mesut has not commented yet, which has disappointed many fans because they have questions and expect an answer, and they rightly expect that answer.
“So it’s very clear to me that Mesut, when he returns from vacation, should also publicly give his view. We also want to wait and see how Mesut gets involved."