Mesut Özil says he felt the pain Bukayo Saka suffered after missing a penalty in the UK 2020 final defeat and urged the youngster to remain strong after the racist backlash.
The versatile winger was one of three English players missing from the penalty shoot-out loss to Italy on July 11, alongside Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who have also received racist abuse on social media.
Gianluigi Donnarumma’s save from a Saka penalty was the defining moment in the match that ended 1-1 after extra time when England lost 2-2 on penalties at Wembley.
Özil, who played with Saka for two years at Arsenal before joining Fenerbahce in January, believes the 19-year-old deserves praise for climbing up and taking a penalty in such a pressurized environment.
“I felt a lot for Bukayo,” he told Sky Sports News. “I know from my own experience what it feels like to miss a penalty.
“In a final, as the last, to take responsibility for an entire nation as a young player – respect. Not many players would dare to do that. “
In a speech last week, Saka said he would not be broken by his final Euro 2020 penalty kick and hideous news that followed as he urged social media bosses to do more to combat problematic users.
But Arsenal playmaker Özil fears that such abuse will never be completely eradicated.
“There will always be people who racially abuse people of different origins and skin color and make them scapegoats when they lose,” he said.
“Unfortunately there will always be a small part of our community that racially insults and threatens players. We should focus a lot more on the positive messages that keep the players strong.
– Bukayo Saka (@ BukayoSaka87) July 15, 2021
Saka has played regularly for Arsenal for the past two seasons and was used four times for runner-up England at Euro 2020, starting three games.
“Bukayo is a humble young player,” added Özil. “I got to know him as a very determined young man who works very hard for his dream and does everything to make it come true.
“Bukayo is gifted with a talent that not many have. If he stays as humble and determined as he already is, I’m one hundred percent convinced that he has a great future ahead of him and that he can become a great player.
“He is really a great talent and I am sure that there will be many more great games for the England team in the future.”