“Another football and another politics”. An observation of a general nature, with which you can hardly disagree. But what happens when you are an athlete and experience the ambiguities and “traps” of politics yourself?Barcelona’s Ilkay Guidogan will find himself in a particularly delicate position on Saturday. Generally speaking, this is one of the best football players in the world, with great honors and performances from the biggest European stadiums, previously also with the shirt of Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund.

But there is one detail: Gintogan was born in Germany to Turkish parents and plays in the German National Team, in fact, he has been wearing the captain’s armband for a few months now. On Saturday, he is invited, for the first time, to compete against Turkey. “There’s no question, it’s a special game for me,” he says to the German News Agency (dpa), and he doesn’t hide his love for Turkey. “My parents, grandparents and other relatives live in Izmir,” he says. “I try to visit Turkey at least once a year. Istanbul is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and I love Turkish cuisine.”

That unfortunate story of 2018…

Gintogan does not want to enter the “fields” of politics. For Saturday’s game he says only: “I hope we will see a celebration of football.” Otherwise, restraint. He may still remember the uproar caused by the photos with Turkish President Erdogan in May 2018 of him and Mesut Ozil, another “prodigy child” of German football of Turkish origin.

The president of Turkey had visited them in a London hotel shortly before the World Cup in Russia, at a time when there was tension in German-Turkish relations. Erdogan was in the final stretch of an ambiguous election campaign and did his best to project himself as the leader of “all Turks”, including those living abroad.

All this caused reactions inside and outside the mission. In fact, the former president of the Greens, Cem Ezdemir (also of Turkish origin), accused the two footballers of “giving in to a cheap propaganda show”. And when Germany were summarily knocked out of the World Cup in Russia, losing even to South Korea, the blame game began and the atmosphere became heavy for the two stars of the “Nationalmanschaft”.

But their reaction was diametrically opposite. Ozil “raised the glove” and declared, indignantly, that “when we win we are Germans and when we lose we are immigrants”. He later decided to end his career in the Turkish league, rather ingloriously, while in the 2023 elections he openly expressed his support for Erdogan. On the contrary, Gintogan stayed in Germany, gave explanations and devoted himself to his playing duties, without unnecessary statements. Winning the Champions League with Manchester City in 2023 brought universal recognition for the current captain of the “Nationale Mannschaft”.

One National Team… multi-culti

It goes without saying that Ilkay Guttogan is not the only German national team player of foreign origin. “That’s the way things are today, that’s the spirit of the times,” says the legendary Rudi Feller, former international and current chief of staff at the German Football Association (DFB). “Many have roots elsewhere, have parents or grandparents who were born or raised in another country. But this is completely normal in our time.”

It wasn’t always normal. The first teachers were the French, who in 1998 won the World Cup by fielding a super team, in which players from Algeria, Armenia, Ghana, Guadeloupe and Guyana were the main players. The head of the “National Front” at the time, Jean-Marie Le Pen, protested and said that “this is not a French team”. Perhaps he was giddy watching the dribbles of Zinedine Zidane, the son of an immigrant family from Algeria, who established himself as the undisputed leader of the Tricolore.

The French example was followed by the Germans under the instructions of Joachim Löw and they won the 2014 World Cup, even recording an unrepeatable 7-1 victory against Brazil in the semi-final of the competition.

The question remains whether Erdogan will finally attend Saturday’s Germany-Turkey match at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, as he previously did at a similar game, side-by-side with Angela Merkel. Until recently, most people said that it was impossible for something like this to happen. However, on Thursday the president of the German Football Association left a “loophole”, saying: “At the moment we do not know what Mr Erdogan will decide, whether he will come to the stadium or not. But we assume that this will not happen, because we do not have any relevant information…”