Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan caught up in Germany-Turkey row over Erdogan
Arsenal and Man City stars were pictured with the Turkish president on his state visit to Britain
A row has erupted between the Turkish and German football federations after Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan were photographed with Recep Erdogan during his state visit to Britain.
The president of Turkey - a talented footballer in his youth - posed with the Arsenal midfielder and the Manchester City star in photographs that were then tweeted by Turkey’s ruling AK Parti.
It wasn’t just the fact that the pair, along with Everton and Turkey striker Cenk Tosun, had allowed themselves to be used for publicity by a man with a dubious record in human rights, but that Gundogan signed a shirt for Erdogan bearing the inscription, “with respect for my president”.
That hasn’t gone down well in Germany for whom Gundogan plays his international football. The president of the Bundesliga, Reinhard Grindel, criticised the trio for participating in an “election campaign stunt”, a reference to the 24 June elections that are expected to result in a comfortable victory for Erdogan.
He added: “The German Football Association [DFB] of course respects the special situation for our players with migrant backgrounds, but football and the DFB stands for values that Mr Erdogan does not sufficiently respect. Therefore, it is not a good thing that our internationals have let themselves be exploited.”
That drew a swift response from Grindel’s counterpart, Turkish Football Federation (TFF) president Yildrim Demiroren, who said: “It was very disturbing for me to read the tweets posted by the German Football Association president in his social media account, which includes detrimental statements about our President Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The DFB president’s remarks are unacceptable.”
Describing the meeting between players and Erdogan as “only natural”, Demiroren added: “Footballers of any nationality will always be welcomed by our president, especially when they are the ones who want to have such a meeting.”
Yasin Aktay, a senior Erdogan adviser, went further, accusing Germany of “Erdoganphobia” and “Islamophobia”, adding: “He is the publicly-elected president of Turkey. He represents the whole of the Turkish public in that position. This reaction shows that German authorities have an irrational fanaticism against Erdogan.”
Gundogan has come in for the sharpest criticism in Germany in light of what he wrote on the shirt. Message boards have been inundated with angry football fans questioning where his allegiance really lies.
The City player has issued a statement defending his actions. “Should we have been disrespectful to the president of the homeland of our families?” he asked. “It was never our intention to make a political statement with this picture, let alone campaign [for Erdogan]. As Germany internationals, we own up to the values of the DFB and are aware of our responsibility. Football is our life, not politics.”
The timing of the row has been unfortunate, erupting on the day that Germany head coach Joachim Low named both Ozil and Gundogan in his preliminary, 27-man World Cup squad.
Asked about the meeting, Low replied: “We told them that this has not been the best idea. But I am also sympathetic towards them. Two hearts sometimes beat in players with an immigrant background.
“It’s not that easy, and both have said they did not want to make a political statement. Both have done a lot for integration in Germany. It will be a lesson for them.”