German president meets footballers of Turkish origin after controversy
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with football players Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan on May 19 in a series of clear-the-air talks following their photos alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The reason for the row was that the pair each presented Erdoğan with signed shirts from their English football clubs—Arsenal and Manchester City. However, they were criticized by both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Football Federation (DFB) for this move.
“İlkay Gündoğan and Mesut Özil expressed a desire to visit me,” Steinmeier posted on Facebook alongside a picture of him with the German football stars in Berlin.
“It was important to both of them to clear up any misunderstandings that came up,” he said, adding that both players affirmed their loyalty to Germany during the meeting.
“I grew up here and I’m faithful to my country,” Gelsenkirchen-born Özil was quoted as saying.
“Germany is today clearly my country and my team,” added Gündoğan.
Players do damage control
Manchester City’s Gündoğan and Arsenal star Özil found themselves at the center of a political storm after meeting with Erdoğan on May 13 during his three-day visit to Britain.
Several German politicians slammed the pair, especially as Gündoğan’s shirt had “With respect to my president” written on it, which was immediately pounced upon by Germany’s political right.
“Why does Gündoğan play for the German national team, if he recognizes Erdoğan as his president?” tweeted rightist Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Beatrix von Storch.
DFB president Reinhard Grindel said the pair allowed themselves to be “manipulated” in Erdoğan’s election campaign as he seeks re-election on June 24.
Both players were named in the extended 27-man World Cup squad, which was announced on May 15 as Germany head coach Joachim Löw ignored calls to drop them.
Özil and Gündoğan also sat down with senior DFB officials before the German Cup final on May 19.
“Both assured us that they did not want to send any political signal with their actions,” said Grindel.
“It deserves respect and recognition that Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan personally wanted to remove the irritation. This open and honest exchange with the players was important to us at the DFB,” Grindel added.
Özil won an award in 2010 for his integration work and the pair were defended by national team director Oliver Bierhoff.
“I’ve known both players for years and know how much they identify with the national team and our values in Germany,” said Bierhoff.
“Mesut and İlkay continue to be good ambassadors for integration, not just because of their decision to play for Germany,” he said.