ISTANBUL — Mesut Ozil said farewell to Arsenal teammates and flew to Turkey on Sunday to join Fenerbahce in a bid to reignite a once-flourishing career that faltered in London.
The former Germany midfielder, who is of Turkish descent, hasn't played for Arsenal since March after falling out of favor with manager Mikel Arteta over concerns about the player's work rate.
"I am very excited. I've said I'm a Fenerbahce fan. I am very happy to be coming to Fenerbahce," Ozil said in a telephone interview with Turkish broadcaster BBO Sports. "God has granted me the chance to wear the Fenerbahce uniform as a Fenerbahce fan. I will do my best for the team."
The 32-year-old Ozil wasn't even included in Arsenal's Premier League squad for the season despite being one of the highest earners and has been ostentatiously tweeting his support for the team from his home during matches.
Now Arsenal has managed to offload Ozil before his contract expires in June. Fenerbahce posted images of Ozil leaving London on a private jet on Sunday night.
After 7½ years at Arsenal, which he joined from Real Madrid, Ozil is heading to one of the favored clubs of Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Welcome to your home, your country dear @MesutOzil1088," Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.
Ozil posed for photos with Erdogan in May 2018 in the run-up to the Turkish general election — prompting serious criticism from German soccer officials and antagonizing some in Germany who felt the player wasn't fully behind the national team — while the president was an official witness at Ozil's wedding ceremony.
Fenerbahce won the last of its 19 Turkish league titles in 2014. The team has not been in the Champions League group stage since a match-fixing scandal broke in 2011.
Ozil's last match for Arsenal was in March, a week before soccer was suspended at the outbreak of the coronavirus, so he might not be match-sharp to start immediately for Fenerbahce.
Ozil became ostracized by Arsenal just as Arteta was hired as manager in December 2019. The club distanced itself from Ozil standing up for Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China after he condemned the detention of more than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities in so-called re-education camps.
A social media post from Ozil also denounced China for burning Qurans, closing mosques and the killing of religious scholars.
Ozil's criticism of China led to Arsenal's match being pulled from Chinese television. The Chinese government accused Ozil of being "blinded and misled" and Arsenal said "the content he expressed is entirely Ozil's personal opinion" and stressed it was not getting involved as a club.