Germany take on France in their first ever UEFA Nations League game on Thursday, with all the talk in the camp and in press conferences focusing on one player.
Not Antoine Griezmann, who won the World Cup, Europa League and Super Cup in the space of two months over the summer. Not midfielders N'Golo Kante or Paul Pogba, who starred in the centre of the park in Russia. Not teenage superstar Kylian Mbappe, whose number 10 jersey is now iconic for Les Bleus. Instead, everyone is discussing Germany's own World Cup number 10, a player who will not even take part in the Nations League clash on Thursday evening.
At every opportunity, every interview, every press conference, a question was asked about the absence of Mesut Ozil, the five-time national player of the year, who stepped away from international football following Germany's humiliation at the World Cup in Russia.
Ozil felt scapegoated for Germany's failures, having taken a lot of flak for posing for a photograph with controversial Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the tournament and confirmed his withdrawal from international football by releasing a three-part statement on social media attacking the German football association (DFB) and political figures in Germany for racism and disrespect.
After the World Cup, the DFB and head coach Joachim Low announced that they would perform a sporting analysis of what went wrong in Russia, with the results due to be announced when Low revealed his next international squad. In the meantime, DFB president Reinhard Grindel, as well as a host of former Germany players and even some current internationals such as Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer, denied any evidence of racism within the Germany squad, thus spectacularly missing the point Ozil had raised in his statement.
Ozil never accused his team-mates or coaching staff of discrimination, instead highlighting the problem in larger society, where he claimed "If we win, I'm German. If we lose, I'm an immigrant," but kept his greatest criticism for the DFB and particularly president Grindel. After an initial tepid statement, Grindel eventually conceded that maybe he handled things poorly, but fell far short of apologising for his actions and that of the DFB.
All the while, more and more players claimed not to have seen any racism within the Germany camp, with Toni Kroos calling it 'nonsense' and Muller blaming the media, while some mixed heritage or foreign players naively trotted out the 'well it never happened to me' line. Only Ilkay Gundogan acknowledged that a line had been crossed.
In his statement, Ozil never specifically mentioned the word retirement, writing "I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect." The avenue was there for the 29 year old to return to the international fold if changes had been made or even mistakes acknowledged.
Instead, Low once again criticised the former Real Madrid star during the squad announcement conference, barely touching on the 'sporting analysis' carried out since the World Cup, showing little had changed in the setup of the team or its ostracisation of Ozil.
"Mesut Ozil has clearly overstated his allegations of racism," Low told reporters. "There was never any kind of racism. Throughout the time I was at the DFB, there has never been an approach of racist comments in our team. Mesut and Ilkay have always identified with the values of the national team."
When the Germany squad met for training ahead of the France game, players and coach contined to be asked about Ozil, with the possibility of a return from exile put to Low: "In my view, Mesut Ozil has clearly declared his retirement and closed the door by himself with that, so a comeback is not a topic," he told Sport Bild.
The door is definitely closed for Ozil's return, but unfortunately the people involved fail to realise that they've boarded it up from the inside.