The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Tuesday called for Turkish-German soccer players Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan, who had their photographs taken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to be dropped from Germany’s World Cup squad in Russia.
The two players of Turkish descent angered some fans and politicians when they were pictured beaming with Erdoğan last month, and they have faced a barrage of criticism ever since, with lawmakers and the German football federation arguing that Erdoğan does not sufficiently respect German values.
Defending champions Germany were defeated on Sunday 1-0 by Mexico in their first game at the World Cup. Coach Joachim Loew is in the crosshairs after sticking with a lacklustre Özil instead of speedy, in-form winger Marco Reus, according to a report by Reuters.
“Team spirit isn’t working with Özil and Gündogan in the German team because whoever only takes part half-heartedly can’t muster the necessary fighting spirit,” said Joern Koenig, the AfD’s spokesman on sport.
“Joachim Loew should cut the cord and send both of them home. There are national players who are proud of our country, and Özil and Gündoğan should free up two spots on the national team for players who don’t pay more homage to the Turkish president than they do to the German homeland,” he said.
Gündoğan also called Turkish Islamist and autocratic President Erdoğan “my president” in a message, although ties between the European Union and Turkey have deteriorated over the past two years amid a crackdown by Erdoğan’s government on the alleged members of the Gülen movement and Kurds since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Reuters reported that the rival political parties did not immediately respond to the AfD remarks. Other political groups have generally refused to work with the AfD, which won seats in parliament for the first time last year.
Germany’s former World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthaeus also wrote in top-selling Bild newspaper that Özil showed no passion on the pitch. “When Özil is on the pitch I often have the feeling that he doesn’t feel comfortable in the DFB shirt, that he’s not free and it’s almost as if he doesn’t even want to play,” Matthaeus wrote. The DFB is the German Football Association.
Loew had warned before the tournament that Özil and Gündoğan should prepare for more whistles and jeers over the photographs taken with Erdoğan.