German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier 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 Erdogan.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday met with football players Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan in a series of clear-the-air talks following their controversial photos alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The reason for the row was that the pair each presented Erdogan with signed shirts 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.
"Ilkay Gündogan and Mesut Özil expressed a desire to visit me," Steinmeier posted on Facebook alongside 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.
English Premier League football players Gundogan, Özil, and Cenk Tosun (far right) meet Turkish President Erdogan
"I grew up here and I'm faithful to my country," Gelsenkirchen-born Özil was quoted as saying, while Gündogan added, "Germany is today clearly my country and my team."
Players do damage control
Manchester City's Gündogan and Arsenal star Özil found themselves at the center of a political storm after meeting Erdogan last Sunday during his three-day visit to Britain.
Several German politicians slammed the pair, especially as Gündogan shirt had 'With respect to my president' written on it, which was immediately pounced upon by Germany's political right.
"Why does Gündogan play for the German national team, if he recognizes Erdogan 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 Erdogan's election campaign as he seeks re-election on June 24.
Both players were named in the extended 27-man World Cup squad which was announced on Tuesday as Germany head coach Joachim Löw ignored calls to drop them.
Özil and Gündogan also sat down with senior 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," said Grindel.
"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," Grindel added.
Özil won an award in 2010 for his integration work and the pair were defended by national team director Oliver Bierhoff.
"I've known both players for years and know how much they identify with the national team and our values in Germany," said Bierhoff.
"Mesut and Ilkay continue to be good ambassadors for integration, not just because of their decision to play for Germany."
av/jlw (AFP, Reuters)