BERLIN, May 19 (Reuters) - Germany internationals Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil met German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as well as federation bosses on Saturday in an effort to clear the air over a controversial photo with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan last week.
The pictures, taken in London on Sunday and published by Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, show Ozil and Gundogan standing next to the president, all beaming, and giving him shirts from their English clubs - Arsenal and Manchester City.
Gundogan’s shirt had “With respect for my president” written on it.
He later said it was not the intention of the two players, who have Turkish roots, to make a political statement or be drawn into campaigning for Turkey’s elections next month.
The photos unleashed a storm of criticism from lawmakers across Germany’s political spectrum and the DFB football federation, all of whom argued that Erdogan does not sufficiently respect German values.
“The two players contacted us and the DFB and wanted to clear this issue up,” Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters.
“The German president suggested they meet with him as well. There was a discussion. Now we can start talking about other things.”
Loew has called up the pair in his preliminary squad for their title defence at next month’s World Cup in Russia. “Both assured us that they had not wanted to send any political signal with that action,” DFB President Reinhard Grindel said.
“They also stated that they stand for our values on and off the pitch ands that they identify with them.”
Ties between the European Union and Turkey have deteriorated over the past two years amid a crackdown by Erdogan’s government on suspected supporters of a failed military coup in July, 2016.
Turkey has shut down media outlets, detained 160,000 people and sacked nearly the same number of public employees. It says the crackdown is needed for security reasons. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)