German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday met with two German football players with Turkish roots who have been at the center of a political row for posing for pictures with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to London, according to a reportby Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) on Sunday.
The report said Steinmeier met with football players Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan in a series of “clear the air” talks following their controversial photos with Erdoğan. The reason for the row was that the pair each presented Erdoğan with signed jerseys 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 their actions.
“İlkay Gündoğan and Mesut Özil expressed a desire to visit me,” Steinmeier posted on Facebook along with a picture of him with the Germany stars in Berlin. “It was important to both of them to clear up any misunderstandings that came up.” Steinmeier added 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, while Gündoğan added, “Germany is today clearly my country and my team.”
Manchester City’s Gündoğan and Arsenal star Özil found themselves at the center of a political storm after meeting Erdoğan last Sunday 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 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 that was announced on Tuesday as Germany head coach Joachim Löw ignored calls to drop them. Özil and Gündoğan also sat down with senior German Football Association (DFB) officials before the German Cup final on Saturday.
“Both assured us that they did not want to send any political signal with their actions,” DFB president Reinhard Grindel said, and added: “It deserves respect and recognition that Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan personally wanted to remove the irritation. This open and honest exchange with the players was important to us at the DFB.”