Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has branded criticism of Germany internationals Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan for meeting with him prior to the World Cup as “incomprehensible”.
Ozil and Gundogan, both of whom are of Turkish descent, were heavily criticised after being photographed with the controversial Erdogan in London prior to Russia 2018.
After Joachim Low’s side crashed out at the group stage of the tournament, Ozil released a lengthy statement insisting the meeting “had no political intentions”.
The Arsenal playmaker also announced his retirement from international football, hitting out at the German Football Association (DFB) and elaborating on how he felt his Turkish roots had been disrespected in treatment that amounted to “racism”.
“There is nothing to regret,” Erdogan told Funke Mediengruppe, before suggesting double standards were at play.
“As you know, Lothar Matthaus met with Vladimir Putin. Our players should also be able to act with a clear conscience. I regret the people who criticise that.
“We have met many times on different occasions. We also meet Turkish citizens in different countries. Mesut is someone who lives in London. Why should not I meet him while I’m here?
“Should we, if a German football player who plays in our country take a picture with Mrs Merkel, then lynch him? This logic is incomprehensible.
“Ozil and Gundogan can feel that they belong to both countries; the country where they were born and the country where their parents come from.”
Ozil’s retirement statement brought criticism from a host of former players as well as some of his Germany team-mates, yet Erdogan believes his grievances are valid.
“We are proud of our fellow citizens living in Germany, in fact Mesut Ozil said: ‘I play for Germany, but carry Turkey in my heart.’
“He did not leave the German national team for no reason, and anyone else who struggles with these racist attacks and insults would show the same reaction.”
Erdogan won re-election in June against a backdrop of pressure from human rights groups and exiled Turkish citizens, who have denounced his government’s alleged systematic arrest of journalists, civil rights activists and political opponents.