The jeers and criticism aimed at Ilkay Gundogan from Germany fans following his recent meeting with controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan are "hard to live with". In May, the Premier League's contingent of players with Turkish descent were invited to a meeting with Erdogan, and Gundogan was photographed attending alongside Germany team-mate Mesut Özil and Everton striker Cenk Tosun.
Gundogan targetted by some fans
Gundogan, who was born in Gelsenkirchen, referred to Erdogan as "my president" and for that he has been singled out by Germany fans. Erdogan has regularly been criticised by human rights groups for his government's alleged mistreatment of journalists, activists and political opponents, and so Gundogan was incessantly jeered by fans for during two recent friendlies as a consequence of being seen with the politician.
The Manchester City star has felt affected by the reactions, some he considers "personal attacks", though he insists he never meant to make a political stance. "Some reactions touched me, including personal attacks," Gundogan told France Football. "In recent years we have done a lot to promote integration in Germany. We do not only have a Turkish side, inherited from our parents and our families, we were born and raised in Gelsenkirchen. It is a city with a high percentage of emigrants. That's why I was very shocked to hear that we were [apparently] not integrated and that we did not want to live according to German values. It was a difficult experience. Because of our Turkish roots, we still have a very strong relationship with Turkey. That does not mean, however, that we believe that Mr. Steinmeier is not our president, or Mrs. Merkel is not our chancellor. It has never been our intention to take a political stance.
Opinions are one thing, insults another
"We are used to the whistles of the opposing fans, but when we are booed by our own fans, it's hard to live with", he continued. "I am always open to criticism. Everyone has their opinion, that's why we have freedom of opinion. I am for [freedom of expression], and that's why I feel privileged to be born and raised in Germany. But I do not want to be insulted either. For me, it was important to speak [about the situation]. I want to regain normality; I do not want to hide. Everyone has their own way of handling the situation. Now I want to focus on the basics again."