It will definitely be “special” and “emotional”: Ilkay Gündogan and the national soccer team will meet his parents’ home country for the first time. He had to wait a long time.
Ilkay Gündogan put on his black gloves and kicked a few balls with Antonio Rüdiger. Calm, calm. Before the game against his parents’ home country, the national team captain began routine training. In politically difficult times, the 33-year-old is playing against Turkey for the first time at a mature footballer’s age. “When I think about it, it took quite a long time,” he told the German Press Agency. “It will be a very special game for me – no question about it.”
Deep connection to Türkiye
Tens of thousands of Turkish fans are expected in the sold-out Berlin Olympic Stadium on Saturday (8:45 p.m./RTL). It will be “emotional,” said the Gelsenkirchen-born FC Barcelona professional, who proves like no player before him that the black and white German The national jersey and the deep connection to the country of one’s own parents cannot be ruled out. Also – or especially – because his DFB career could have ended differently after May 13, 2018.
In contrast to Mesut Özil, Gündogan explained himself in detail after the scandalous photo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan five and a half years ago, and he classified the appearance. Less than a year later, the now 33-year-old led the DFB team as captain for the first time, at that time still on a temporary basis. In September, national coach Julian Nagelsmann undoubtedly took over Hansi Flick’s decision to appoint the technically superior midfielder as the permanent leader. With the captain’s armband on his arm, he will lead the DFB team onto the pitch on Saturday.
Family in Izmir
“I try to travel to Turkey at least once every year. Istanbul is one of my absolute favorite cities in the world and I love Turkish food,” said Gündogan, who has won everything at club level but had problems with the national team for years to confirm this performance. “My grandparents, parents and other relatives still live in Turkey in Izmir, and of course I also have many friends there.”
In the Ataturk Stadium in the huge Turkish metropolis in June, Gündogan captained Manchester City to triumph in the Champions League. A number of family members cheered in the arena. Competing against a Turkish team is a rarity for the development player, although not a novelty.
Völler: “That’s the spirit of the times”
“Of course it’s like that nowadays, that’s the spirit of the times, that many others have roots, parents or grandparents who grew up or were born somewhere else,” said DFB sports director Rudi Völler in an interview with Bayerischer Rundfunk. “That’s completely normal in our time, Illy will be able to deal with it wonderfully.”
Gündogan had to experience hostility from German fans, even long after the photo with Erdogan. It is difficult to predict how the Turkish supporters will react to the German captain’s touches with the ball on a cold Saturday evening in the Olympic Stadium. Gündogan is very socially involved in his parents’ home country. In “difficult moments” such as the forest fires in 2021 or the earthquake this year, he “supported and helped out locally with charity projects,” said the midfielder, who missed the Turkey test in October 2020 because of Corona.
State visit from Erdogan
The political dimension of the game goes beyond the conflict of fans born in Turkey or Germany. The day before, Erdogan was a guest of Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz; the Turkish president had recently accused Israel of “state terrorism” in the Gaza war and also questioned the country’s legitimacy. On match day, thousands of Kurds want to demonstrate for the PKK workers’ party, which is banned by Turkey, and against Erdogan’s policies. The German Football Association noted with relief that a visit to the Turkey game is not on Erdogan’s agenda. The conflict could still be brought into the stadium.
“Sport can’t hide from this,” Völler said in principle about the debate about football and politics. “We always try to show a certain attitude.” The 1990 world champion said that it was important for him to “read things up a bit” in order to understand what it was all about.
Gündogan is not a football professional who makes hasty or thoughtless comments. Before the game, which was emotional for him, the Barça professional held back on political questions. “I’m hoping for a great football festival,” he said, one that he can also enjoy.
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