llkay Gündogan is captain of the German national soccer team, but has Turkish roots. Now both countries will meet on Saturday (November 18th, 2023, 8:45 p.m., live in the audio stream) – it is a first for Gündogan.
Actually, Ilkay Gündogan would have been the logical choice for the final press conference before the international match against Turkey in Berlin. But Gündogan did not speak, at least not on Friday (November 17, 2023). Instead, Leroy Sané and national coach Julian Nagelsmann sat there.
Nagelsmann started with less than pleasant news when he announced the loss of goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen. He also spoke about Joshua Kimmich, who he plans to play in the center of midfield and not as a right-back. At some point Nagelsmann was also asked about Gündogan. He said: “Of course it’s a special game for him, that’s obvious.”
Gündogan says: “It will be a special game for me”
This assessment was not a surprise, also because Gündogan, 33, had made almost the same statement in the days before the game. “It will be a very special game for me, no question about it.”he said in an interview with the German Press Agency (DPA). Gündogan was born in Gelsenkirchen to Turkish parents and played for Germany’s national teams as a youth. Now he will face Turkey in an international match for the first time – and as captain of the DFB team.
There were times when that seemed rather unlikely: Ilkay Gündogan as captain of the German national team. Especially in those days in May 2018, a few weeks before the start of the World Cup, when not only Mesut Özil was seen in a photo next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but also Gündogan.
What followed is as well known as it is regrettable: there was hostility towards both players, the DFB looked for a solution and found none. Özil remained silent for a long time, then accused the association of racism and resigned. Gündogan did not remain silent for long, nor did he step back. He tried to explain. In one report he was quoted as saying: “It was not our intention to make a political statement with this image, let alone to campaign for it.”
Undisputed in the club, in the National team not always
As a footballer, Gündogan has long been undisputed, at least among his clubs. He was with Pep Guardiola Manchester City A decisive player for seven years, they won title after title together. Now he is working magic at FC Barcelona. In the summer, in Gündogan’s last season at City, they also won the Champions League. The final took place in the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, and many of Gündogan’s family members were among the spectators.
With the national team, however, Gündogan was more of a follower for a long time. He was in the squad at the 2012 European Championships, but was not used. He missed the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship, which led to the title and the semi-finals, due to injuries. At the 2020 European Championship, Gündogan was only on the bench in the round of 16 against England. And the 2018 and 2022 World Championships were a disappointment in terms of sport; here too, Gündogan only very tentatively hinted at his abilities.
Germany against Turkey in Berlin: “It will be emotional”
Nevertheless, Gündogan is undisputed today; the question is no longer whether he will play. The only thing that remains unclear is who will play next to him. Joshua Kimmich should start alongside him against Turkey. The more exciting question is how tens of thousands of Turkish supporters in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin will react to Gündogan as Germany’s captain.
“When I think about it, it took quite a long time.”said Gündogan to the DPA, and of course he meant his first international match against Turkey. When this encounter last took place in autumn 2020, Gündogan was not there. He was infected with the coronavirus.
Well, in the days before the test match, Gündogan said it would certainly not be a normal game for him, but one that “emotionally” become. He has always emphasized his ties to Turkey and supports aid projects, such as most recently after the earthquake catastrophe. “My grandparents, parents and other relatives still live in Izmir, I have many friends there”said Gündogan to the DPA.
Erdogan is in Berlin, but he is not expected at the stadium
Germany with captain Gündogan against Turkey, it won’t be a completely normal football game for everyone involved. But the explosiveness of the game still has another level, in which football doesn’t even play a minor role. It’s about politics, war and suffering.
Turkish President Erdogan landed in Berlin on Friday and was a guest of Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Erdogan last had Israel in the Gaza war “State terror” accused and the country’s legitimacy was also questioned. This is not the only reason why thousands of Kurds want to demonstrate for the PKK workers’ party, which is banned by Turkey, and against Erdogan’s policies on match day.
The German Football Association will have been relieved to learn that a visit to the Turkey game is not on Erdogan’s agenda. The conflict could still be brought into the stadium, or at least that is the fear. Gündogan preferred to just talk about football before the game. But he did express one wish. He said: “I hope for a great football festival.”