BERLIN – Mesut Ozil has defended his decision to pose for a picture with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and attacked German media for what he called "double standards" in their treatment of people with Turkish roots.
The photo of Erdogan, Ozil and Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan caused an uproar in Germany two months ago.
The head of Germany's soccer federation, Reinhard Grindel, accused the players — whose families came to Germany from Turkey — of allowing themselves to be "exploited" by Erdogan for political purposes before a snap Turkish election in June. Some German politicians questioned Ozil and Gundogan's loyalty and suggested they should be removed from the national squad ahead of the World Cup.
Gundogan distanced himself from the picture, but Ozil refused to comment publicly until Sunday, when he published a statement in English on Twitter in which he said the photo "was about me respecting the highest office of my family's country."
"The picture we took had no political intentions," he said.
The Arsenal star took a swipe at German media who suggested that Ozil was partly to blame for Germany's shock group-stage exit from the World Cup.
"This crosses a personal line that should never be crossed, as newspapers try to turn the nation of Germany against me," Ozil said.
The 29-year-old midfielder accused German media of double standards for failing to criticize former Germany captain Lothar Matthaeus for his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ozil said his former school in the western city of Gelsenkirchen also canceled a planned visit over the incident. "In all honesty, this really hurt," he said.