'Ozil always wanted to have fun and play football' - Neuer defends former Germany teammate

Though the Arsenal man quit the German national team under a cloud, citing racism and disrespect as factors, Neuer prefers to remember happier times

Manuel Neuer has defended Mesut Ozil's record with the German national team, saying: "What he always wanted was to have fun and play football."

Ozil quit Die Mannschaft after their group-stage exit from the 2018 World Cup, citing "racism and disrespect" as factors in his decision and writing in a statement: "I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose."

Neuer was one of several players who strongly denied racism from within the Germany camp in the aftermath, but he has now come out in defence of his former teammate.

Asked about integration within the national team and how he viewed the Ozil situation with the benefit of hindsight in a wide-ranging interview with Kicker, the Bayern Munich keeper said: "We had great years together. 

"What he always wanted was to have fun and play football. The things that happened off the pitch were not always fortunate."

Ozil was the target of racist abuse online after the World Cup, while he also came in for considerable criticism over a meeting with authoritarian Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He and Neuer, who also came through the academy at Schalke together and played alongside each other as schoolkids, lifted the World Cup side by side in 2014.

Neuer was also asked about social media and whether criticism from fans has become more extreme in recent years. Speaking about his experiences with Bayern, he said: "Criticism is part of our profession, we ourselves are our harshest critics. 

"After the game in Frankfurt [which Bayern lost 5-1] we went into the stand and knew that what we had delivered was a disaster. 

"We know what's going on in the stands. This is different from the comments on social networks. In the stadium, positive and negative emotions are part of it. I don't think the tone has gotten rougher."

As for the way players use social media, he said: "The coaches deal with it in a much more relaxed way these days than in the first years. 

"There are still rules on how to handle it as a professional. Every player knows that he has to take responsibility himself."