Özil, Gündoğan meet with German president after Erdoğan photo tension

Two German national team players of Turkish heritage - Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan - met with the German president and soccer bosses on Saturday, in an effort to defuse a political row after they were pictured with Turkish president last Sunday, Reuters news agency reported.

Two top players came under heavy criticism from Germany's DFB soccer federation and several German politicians for posing for a photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which was seen as a political campaign tool. The photo was posted on Erdoğan’s leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) official Twitter account during Erdoğan’s three-day UK visit last week.

Gündoğan’s shirt had the words “With respect for my president” written on it.

The Manchester City player later said it was not their intention to make a political statement or be drawn into campaigning for Turkey’s elections set to take place on June 24.  

The bulk of criticism directed at the players over their meeting with Erdoğan centered around the Turkish president not sufficiently respecting German values.

A crackdown by Erdogan’s government on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in July, 2016 has led to an extended state of emergency in Turkey, isolating the nation from Europe. Turkey has shut down media outlets, detained 160,000 people and sacked nearly the same number of public employees. Turkey maintains that these are for security reasons.

“The two players contacted us and the DFB and wanted to clear this issue up,” Reuters quoted Germany coach Joachim Loew as saying.

“The German president suggested they meet with him as well. There was a discussion. Now we can start talking about other things.”

This time German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier posted a photo on Facebook, depicting him with the two soccer players in front of his office at the Bellevue Castle in Berlin. The German president used the words, “It was important to both of them to clear up the misunderstandings,’’ in the post.

The German president said Arsenal player Özil told him he stood by Germany, where he was raised, while Gündoğan said that although Turkey was important to him as his parents’ homeland, Germany is his country and his team.

Both Özil and Gündoğan have been called up for the German preliminary squad’s title defense at next month’s World Cup in Russia.

DFB President Reinhard Grindel said that both players assured them that they had not wanted to send any political signal by posing with Erdoğan.

Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have announced that will ban any sort of political campaigning for Turkish politicians on their soil, home to sizeable Turkish communities.