It seems churlish to use the word ‘crisis’ after only one defeat but Germany’s World Cup defence is looking increasingly nervous as criticism of Mesut Ozil reached abusive levels yesterday and players had to rebut reports of cliques and disunity in the camp.
Ozil is under increasing pressure after one German former player described him as having the body language of a ‘dead frog’. Another called for him to be dropped ahead of Saturday’s crucial Group game against Sweden in Sochi. Things have got so bad following the world champions’ defeat to Mexico in their opening game in Russia that general manager Oliver Bierhoff had to defend the Arsenal star at a press conference yesterday as the anti-Ozil campaign back in Germany reached a crescendo.
The midfielder has been heavily criticised for his poor performance against Mexico which has left Germany’s future in Russia in the balance as they prepare to face Sweden in what has become a must-win tie on Saturday.
As so often happens with Arsenal, it seems to be Ozil who is picked out as a scapegoat even when so many other players have also under- preformed. He must be used to it, of course, but this time the rhetoric is particularly vicious and personal.
Former player Mario Basler — famous for scoring the opening goal for Bayern in the 1999 Champions League Final against Manchester United — laid into the midfielder on German TV programme Hard But Fair.
Basler has been a long-time critic of Ozil and some of his jibes are particularly sharp. “Ozil hides,” he said. “Even in 2014 he was only a follower. He did relatively little to make us world champions. As he plays at the moment he does not help the team to defend the title. Why Jogi Low always puts up with him is a mystery. In a big game you will see nothing of Mesut Ozil. He scored against Luxembourg, but against big teams he does not.”
Bierhoff was forced to defend Ozil in Sochi ahead of Saturday’s game which looks to be make or break for Germany.
He said: “We shouldn’t get worked up about one person’s opinion. Much of the criticism we are getting is justified but it doesn’t just affect Ozil, it affects others. I’m all for judging players toughly. But when it gets unfair, it’s unfair. That’s the word I’d use.”
Former player Lothar Matthaus, however, has now joined a growing number in Germany calling for Ozil to be dropped for the Sweden match and the background noise is hard to ignore.
Bierhoff gave no indication that Ozil or Sami Khedira, who has also been heavily criticised in the German media, would be left this weekend, though there is a clear desire among German fans for Marco Reus to start in Sochi; but the growing resentment that coach Low gives too much rope to his world champions while ignoring younger talent is hard to ignore.
He said: “Jogi was obviously adjudged by the media to be too loyal to the old guard but it’s really for the coaches to decide but I wouldn’t pin down this criticism on Ozil and Khedira.
“There were several players who under-performed. More than those two. Jogi knows full well their value and that he can rely upon them, but we also have young and hungry ones waiting.”
Reports of a split in the camp, not just between young and experienced but also along club lines, also had to be addressed.
“I don’t see conflict among the team, that’s not true. Neither are there groups within the squad,” said Bierhoff.
Striker Thomas Muller added: “I’ve seen it happen, in 2012 it was an issue between the Dortmund and Bayern players eyeing each other suspiciously. But it’s totally different now.”
Maybe so; but something doesn’t smell quite right.
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