Ilkay Gundogan has said he “honours German values 100 percent” after he and Mesut Ozil were criticised for having their photographs taken with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month.
Manchester City’s Gundogan and Arsenal’s Ozil — both born in the German city of Gelsenkirchen but of Turkish descent — posed for photos during Erdogan’s visit to London.
The Germany internationals’ actions drew criticism from politicians and Reinhard Grindel, the head of the Germany football federation (DFB).
Gundogan and Ozil, who met German chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to Germany’s pre-World Cup training camp in Italy, were whistled by sections of the travelling support during the friendly defeat in Austria last weekend.
And on Tuesday, Gundogan told ARD and ZDF TV that he and Ozil had been through a tough period since the controversy broke.
“A lot of things rained down on Mesut and me in the past two weeks. It continues to be a difficult situation for us. It’s still on our minds, on my mind,” he said.
“That’s why it hurts when there are accusations like that we are not integrated [into German society] or that we don’t live by German values.
“I believe we both have done a lot for it, have tried to be role-models, be respectful, be tolerant. Those two weeks were incredibly difficult.
“It’s still not over. You could all hear the whistles at us in the last match. It’s never nice. Not for me, not for my teammates. It’s not an easy situation to cope with.”
Gundogan again stressed that meeting Erdogan “was never intended as a political statement” and added: “We honour German values 100 percent.”
On Friday, Germany host Saudi Arabia in Leverkusen before beginning their World Cup defence against Mexico on June 17.
And Gundogan said he was aware that he could face a hostile reception from sections of Germany’s support in Russia.
“I don’t expect that all people will understand me. I am prepared for everything. They can do what they want. They can whistle at me, they can insult me.
“Sure thing, it’s not easy to focus on football 100 percent, but I try to shift the focus on it now.”
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.