Turkish sports minister, Osman Bak, has hit out at the way Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan have been treated since they met with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“This behaviour towards Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan is very ugly,” Bak said on Monday.
In addition to heavy media criticism, and booing from German fans, Gundogan’s car was attacked in Cologne last weekend.
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called for the press and public to ‘show more understanding’ over Ozil and Gundogan’s meeting with Erdogan.
According to sportbild.de, Merkel told Joachim Low, the staff of the national team and other players from the squad, that both Ozil and Gundogan explained they did not intend to make a ‘political statement’ through photographs of them with Erdogan.
According to Merkel, national team fans, and the German press, should show a little more “understanding” and “empathy” for the difficult situation the two are going through at present.
“I think the two players have not considered what the photo triggers with President Erdogan,” Merkel said. “I think we all need them now, so that we can do well.
“Gundogan and Özil are part of the national team and I would be happy if some fans could clap as well.”
Merkel met privately with the pair as she wanted to hear personally from the players about how the photograph came about. It was after this meeting that she made her statement to the rest of the German national team camp.
Both Ozil and Gundogan were greeted by whistles from German fans during their first friendly in the run-up to the World Cup. This persisted in the next game, although Ozil missed that match because of a knee injury.
Ozil was widely slated after his performance against Mexico in Germany’s opening game defeat, despite being, statistically at least, the best player on the pitch.
Oliver Bierhoff, meanwhile, said that he does not believe that Ozil will break his silence over the issue. Gundogan has moved to clarify his role but the Arsenal man has stayed silent.
“The German Football Association (DFB) always demand “mature players. Mature means yes, that one decides and is responsible, how to react. And that’s what Mesut does.
“Whether it’s right and good for him in this case is another matter. The consequences we have shown him and he knows from experience.
“He made a mistake. But above all the intention counts for us. He was not vicious, not politically driven, but naive, thoughtless,” Bierhoff added.
About the whistles from fans, Bierhoff admitted he was concerned. “I’m less worried about the team in general, but more about the two players. It already affects Mesut and Ilkay a lot.”
The German FA have already made it known that they were not pleased with the pair for posing with Turkey’s president.
Erdogan was in the UK as part of a state visit when he was pictured with Ozil, Manchester City’s Gundogan and Everton’s Cenk Tousan, who all presented the wannabe dictator with signed shirts.
The stunt came in the run-up to an election in Turkey on June 24 where Erdogan is hopeful of increasing his grip on a country where he has already imprisoned more than 150 journalists since a failed coup in the summer of 2016.
“The 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,” DFB president Reinhard Grindel said at the time.
“Therefore, it is not a good thing that our internationals have let themselves be exploited for his election campaign stunt. It certainly hasn’t helped the DFB’s integration efforts.”
Bierhoff, general manager of the German national team, added, “I still have absolutely no doubts about Mesut and Ilkay’s commitment to playing for the Germany national team and how much they identify with our values.
“They were unaware of the symbolism of these pictures, but we cannot endorse it, and we will discuss the matter with the players.”
In the wake of the incident, German newspaper, Morgenpost, ran a front page story, asking if Ozil and Gundogan should be dropped from the German squad ahead of the World Cup.
Morgenpost asked, “With their Meeting with the controversial Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the German national team [players] Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil have scored an own goal.
“We have made the two realise that it was not a happy one”, said national coach Joachim Löw, Gündogan and Özil yesterday, nevertheless, for the World Cup squad has been nominated. He has made the right decision?”
In their defence, Nils Weber, wrote, “Dark yellow card! An expulsion would be exaggerated and hypocritical.
“My first thought when I saw the photo: How stupid can you be?! The strange and embarrassing appearance of midfielders Özil and Gündogan with right wing Erdogan, favourite for the Turkish presidential campaign and a penalty for the AfD, underpins my assessment that game intelligence and intelligence are two different pairs of football boots – while Gündogan is actually considered a bright head.
“But how do you sanction a stupidity? Certainly not with another one. The demand to throw both of them out of the national team is reflexive, short-sighted, exaggerated, polemical, in many comments nationalist-racist and not worthy of a democracy.
“I find the debate hypocritical.
“Özil and Gündogan are not German enough because they court Erdogan, but Germany is really German because it supplies weapons to Turkey?
“How now DFB President Reinhard Grindel regulates the players and babbles about the values of the Association is hypocritical. Ironically, Grindel and the DFB, who make good on the abuses of World Cup hosts Russia, maintain the best contacts with the Association of dictatorship Azerbaijan and invite for the World Cup dress rehearsal Saudi Arabia (!). No question, Özil and Gündogan have made an unacceptable mistake that costs them sympathy. From now on they play on probation. That’s going to be tough enough. An expulsion would be Erdogan style.
“Proposal: A fine for integration projects. With a visit for both players!”
In favour of banning them from the World Cup, Christian Burmeister explained his reasoning.
“If a national player makes an election campaign for the NPD [a far-right German polictical party], he has nothing to fear from the DFB and Jogi Löw except a little hot air.
“Because Özil and Gündogan have done something similar: campaigning for a man who pursues dissidents, tens of thousands locked away without trial, goes on conquest campaigns and wants to rise to the sole ruler.
“That’s exactly what the NPD dreams of.
“Of course you can defend the two with the argument that they did not know what they were doing. They are just naive footballers. But especially with Gündogan, the high school graduate from Gelsenkirchen, this is hard to imagine.
“The two are admired role models for millions. Especially for many children and adolescents. They were considered a prime example of successful integration.
“What is the actual message, if both of them are allowed to pay homage to an autocrat and his totalitarian ideology with impunity?
“The DFB has missed the chance to show that it is serious about the often-preached values of tolerance and fair play.
“And Matthäus, Effenberg or Uli Stein are due to lesser mistakes from the DFB team.
“Özil and Gündogan have not earned a lifelong ban. But a break for a World Cup length anyway!
“Then maybe they would also find time to talk to Deniz Yücel.”
Yücel is a German-Turkish journalist branded a ‘spy’ that supports terrorist organisations by Erdogan’s government.
He was formally indicted by a Turkish court on 14 February, 2017 and imprisoned until his release just over a year later.
Ozil is expected to be fit for Germany’s opening game against Mexico on Sunday despite missing their final warm-up game against Saudi Arabia, who open the tournament against Russia on Thursday.