Former Arsenal star Mesut Ozil has spoken out in defence of Bukayo Saka saying then teenager deserves respect for stepping up in England’s Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy.
The former Germany international urged the 19-year-old to stay strong in the face of racism.
Saka missed the decisive penalty and was subjected to racist abuse on social media following the game along with team-mates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who were also unable to convert from the spot.
But former Arsenal playmaker Ozil empathised with Saka over his penalty shoot-out heartbreak and offered his support to him in an interview with Sky Sports News.
“I felt very much for Bukayo,” said Ozil. “I know from my own experience how it feels to miss a penalty.
“In a final, as the last one, to take on the responsibility of an entire nation as a young player – respect. Not many players would dare to do that.”
Ozil, who played for Germany between 2009 and 2018, retired from international football citing racist abuse.
At the time he tweeted: “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” – a message that was echoed by many in response to the racist abuse aimed at England’s young black players.
The 32-year-old says the problem is not going away.
“There will always be people who racially abuse and scapegoat people of different backgrounds and skin colour when they lose,” he added.
Asked if he has any advice for the Saka, Sancho and Rashford, Ozil said: “Unfortunately there will always be a small part of our community that racially insults and threatens players.
“We should focus much more on the positive messages that keep players strong.”
Ozil, who played with Saka at Arsenal for two seasons before his move to Fenerbahce, is confident that the youngster has a big role to play for the Three Lions moving forward.
“Bukayo is blessed with a talent that not many have,” said Ozil. “If he remains as humble and determined as he already is, I am a hundred per cent convinced that he has a great future ahead of him and can become a great player.
“He’s really a great talent, and I’m sure that there are going to be many more big matches for the English national team for him in the future.”