Mesut Ozil has revealed the racial abuse and 'disrespect' he received in the wake of his much-publicised photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan - in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia - was the outstanding reason for his decision to retire from the German national squad.
Born in Germany - but with Turkish grandparents - Ozil's close affiliation with the country of his heritage sparked uproar when he was seen spending time with Erdogan, abuse which was heightened in the wake of Die Mannschaft's miserable exit from the World Cup.
The Arsenal midfielder then released a strongly-worded statement announcing his decision to retire from the national side, citing racism as the primary reason for calling time on his Germany career. Speaking to The Athletic, Ozil reaffirmed his choice, insisting that he has no regrets after the abuse he suffered.
"My generation changed German football. It became more fun to watch," he said.
“But after the photo, I felt disrespected and unprotected. I was receiving racist abuse — even from politicians and public figures — yet nobody from the national team came out at that time and said, ‘Hey, stop. This is our player, you can’t insult him like that’. Everyone just kept quiet and let it happen."
The abhorrent abuse directed towards the 31-year-old was touched upon further by Ozil, who claimed the extent of the verbal assaults aimed his way are the result of continuing problems in his native Germany around the issue of racism.
“When we were knocked out and I came off the pitch, German people were telling me, ‘Go back to your country’, ‘F**k yourself’, ‘Turkish pig’ and stuff like that," he added.
“There are major problems in Germany — just look at what happened in Halle last week, another anti-semitic attack. Unfortunately, racism is no longer only a right-wing issue in the country. It has shifted into the middle of society.”
With the disappointment of Germany's premature exit from the World Cup, coupled with the growing discontent Ozil was facing, the midfielder revealed some down time after the summer was needed before he came to his final conclusion.
He concluded: "After Russia, I went away to give myself space to make a clear decision. I talked to those I’m closest to. But in keeping with all of my decisions, I had to follow my heart and decided, ‘It’s time to go, time to move on’."