Former Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil retires at 34
FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2012, file photo, Germany's man of the match Mesut Oezil celebrates after scoring during the Brazil World Cup 2014 group C qualifying soccer match between Germany and Faroe Islands in Hannover, Germany. Former Germany midfielder Mesut Özil, who won the World Cup in 2014, retired from soccer Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at the age of 34. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Former Real Madrid and Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil, who won the World Cup with Germany in 2014, retired from football Wednesday at the age of 34.

Özil said injuries played a role in his decision.

"I've had the privilege to be a professional football player for almost 17 years now and I feel incredibly thankful for the opportunity," Özil wrote on social media. "But in recent weeks and months, having also suffered some injuries, it's become more and more clear that it's time to leave the big stage of football."

His immediate retirement brings an early end to his season with Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir, where he made only seven appearances for the team.

Özil won the Spanish league title with Real Madrid in 2012 and the FA Cup four times with Arsenal. His international career ended abruptly in 2018 when he quit the Germany squad citing "racism and disrespect."

That followed anti-Turkish comments from German politicians and abuse from some fans toward Özil, who has Turkish heritage, amid criticism of his decision to pose for a picture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the run-up to the 2018 World Cup.

Germany coach Hansi Flick, who was with the squad as assistant to Joachim Löw at the 2014 World Cup, paid tribute to Özil as "one of the best football players in the world" at his peak.

"I really enjoyed working with him, he had extraordinary skills, his technique and game vision were outstanding," Flick said in a statement. "All of us with the national team wish him and his family all the best for the time after his career."

Özil started his career in Germany with hometown club Schalke before a good spell at Werder Bremen earned him a spot on the German national team. Standout performances for Germany at the 2010 World Cup were followed by a move to Madrid. He then had an eight-year stint with Arsenal.

"Real Madrid C.F. wants to show its appreciation, its admiration and its affection for one of our great players. Good luck, dear Mesut, to you and your family," the Spanish club said on Twitter.

Arsenal posted: "Thanks for the memories - wishing you all the best in your retirement, Mesut."

Özil moved to Turkish club Fenerbahce in 2021 after his relationship with Arsenal broke down. After disagreements with then-manager Unai Emery and later with his successor Mikel Arteta, Özil was left out of the Arsenal squad before his departure. The club also distanced itself from Özil for posting his support for Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China, comments which led to an Arsenal game being pulled from Chinese television.

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