x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Champions League: Mesut Ozil, the outsider, is back home in Germany with Real Madrid

But a hostile reception awaits the German-born midfielder of Turkish descent, writes Andy Mitten.

Mesut Ozil plays for Real Madrid but had started his career with Schalke, arch rivals to Madrid's hosts for the semi-finals tonight, Dortmund. Gonzalo Moreno / Getty Images
Mesut Ozil plays for Real Madrid but had started his career with Schalke, arch rivals to Madrid's hosts for the semi-finals tonight, Dortmund. Gonzalo Moreno / Getty Images

Not everyone agreed with Mesut Ozil's decision to represent Germany over Turkey, the country of his ancestry.

When the two countries met in 2010, the Real Madrid midfielder was booed mercilessly by the 74,244-strong Istanbul crowd, who felt that he had betrayed his roots. He silenced them by scoring the third goal in a 3-0 win.

Turks were used to German-born compatriots choosing to play for Turkey, but times were changing.

Of the 85 million people living in Germany, 1.6 million are Turkish citizens with a further four million having part or full Turkish ancestry - at least one parent.

Almost all are descendants of the guest workers who arrived when large-scale immigration began in the 1960s because of high unemployment and social unrest in Turkey combined with fast economic growth in Germany.

It continued through the '70s and '80s, and while the scale of immigration has decreased in the last 20 years, 70 per cent of the Turkish diaspora lives in Germany.

Most of the Turks moved to Germany's most populous state of North-Rhine-Westphalia, the industrial region and home to cities such as Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Essen.

Ozil grew up in Gelsenkirchen, a third-generation Turkish-German. The city is the home of Schalke, Borussia Dortmund's main rivals. Dortmund fans will be equally unforgiving tonight when their side face Ozil's Madrid given that his professional career started at Schalke. Ozil's decision to choose Germany was still a surprise.

The Altintop twins - Hamit and Halil - were also born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, but decided to represent the country of their parents. As did Nuri Sahin, who grew up in Ludenscheid, a town of 75,000 located 60 miles to the south.

Likewise Bremen midfielder Mehmet Ekici, who was born in Munich and played with Bayern before joining Werder Bremen. He played for Germany from U17 to U21 levels, before switching to represent Turkey at full international level. That was the norm.

In 2002, Turkey reached the semi-finals of the World Cup and many of their players, including Ilhan Mansiz, Yildiray Basturk and Umit Davala, were German-born and spoke perfect German.

Few German fans expected them to play for Germany. Ozil is not alone, however.

In 2011, then-Turkey manager Guus Hiddink asked him to persuade his friend Ilkay Gundogan, the Dortmund midfielder, to play for Turkey, but he chose Germany, his country of birth.

Players of Turkish descent playing for Germany help integration, even if in 2010, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that multiculturalism in her country had "utterly failed" and that it was an illusion that German and foreign workers could live side by side.

In the same year, Ozil received the Bambi award for being an example of successful integration within German society. Upon receiving his prize, Ozil said: "This is a great honour for me and I'm very happy. Integration creates something new and makes for a more colourful Germany."

Ozil remains a hero to Turks in Germany, though their opinions are divided on his choice of national side, yet more players are likely to choose German over Turkey.

There are other reasons. For decades, German citizenship laws were complicated and restrictive. A child born to Turkish parents in Germany was considered a Turkish citizen. The law changed a decade ago, but it is still difficult to hold dual nationality. If a Turk wants a German passport, then they must surrender their Turkish one, something many are reluctant to do.

Ozil chose Germany because he considered himself German. Tonight, he returns to Germany, close to where he grew up. He will be representing the whites of Madrid rather than Germany. Not that it will spare him from abuse.

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