Mesut Ozil’s decision to quit playing for the German national team trigged a fierce national debate on ethnicity, racism, and discrimination. Ozil accused the German Football Federation (DFB) of bigotry and discrimination because of his Turkish ancestry.
“I’m a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil on a social media post.
He further added, "The treatment I have received from the DFB [German Football Association] and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt. I feel unwanted and think what I have achieved since my international debut in 2009 has been forgotten”.
Ozil is a third-generation Turkish-German. Migration of Turks into Germany can be traced back to the 1960’s when West Germany was going through a period of rapid economic growth. As a result, West Germany suffered severe shortages of manpower. They tried to tackle the problem by bringing in Turkish workers to Germany. This strong wave of immigration to West Germany resulted in a sizable Turkish population in Germany.
Many decedents of the Turkish workers in Germany became footballers. While some German-born Turks decided to represent the German national team, several others choose to represent Turkey at the International stage.
Here is a list of six German-born Turkish footballers who made their way into the upper echelons of world football.
#1 Mehmet Scholl (Germany)
Born in Germany of Turkish ancestry, Mehmet started his professional career with Karlsruher before joining Bayern Munich, where he stayed for the rest of his career until his retirement in 2007. An undisputed fan favorite, Mehmet in his 15 seasons with Bayern, won the Bundesliga title 8 times and the Champions League in 2001.
Mehmet Scholl has also featured for the German national team on 36 occasions, scoring 8 goals. Injuries constantly disrupted his international career. Perhaps, the highlight of his International career was winning the European Championships in 1996.
#2 İlkay Gündoğan (Germany)
Born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Gündoğan started with VfL Bochum II before moving to FC Nurnberg in 2009. After two seasons with Nurnberg, Gündoğan moved to Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund. The midfielder flourished under Jurgen Klopp’s guidance - playing a key role as Dortmund lifted a league and cup double in 2011/12 and reached the Champions League final the following year.
Gündoğan remains eternally indebted to Klopp for molding his career, said in an interview to Goal.com, "I had four fantastic years with Jurgen. I came to Dortmund from a relatively small team and I struggled during my first six months to find my place there. With the help of Jurgen and his staff, I was finally able to find my way and my place. Those days left a mark on my career. Those were my first steps in European football, too, because it was an opportunity that I hadn't had before. So, I have to thank him for that”.
After his successful stint at Dortmund, Gündoğan joined the Pep Guardiola revolution at Manchester City. He became the club's first signing under Guardiola, for an estimated fee of £20 million.
Gündoğan has represented Germany at youth levels, before making his senior international debut in 2011 against Belgium.
#3 Emre Can (Germany)
Born to Turkish parents in Frankfurt, Germany, Emre Can started out in the youth ranks of his hometown club Eintracht Frankfurt before being snared by Bayern Munich at the age of 15 in 2009. After three years and only four Bundesliga appearances to his name, Emre decided to switch to fellow Bundesliga side Bayern Leverkusen in search of first-team football.
In his only season at Leverkusen, Emre became a pivotal part of the side scoring four goals in 39 appearances as Leverkusen finished fourth in the Bundesliga and reached the last 16 of the Champions League
His performances caught the attention of Liverpool and the Merseyside club activated his £9.75 m release clause to sign him from Leverkusen.
In his four seasons at Anfield, Emre established himself as a regular in Liverpool side under Jürgen Klopp. After failing to extend his contract, Emre switched countries to sign for Serie A giants Juventus in 2018.
Emre chose to represent Germany and has 21 international caps to his name. He was part of the UEFA Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup squad.
#4 Nuri Sahin (Turkey)
Turkish parents in Lüdenscheid, West Germany, Nuri Sahin opted to play for Turkey from U16 onwards. Sahin is the youngest player to have played and scored for Turkey, ironically scoring on his debut against Germany in 2005.
Sahin became the youngest player to appear in the Bundesliga as he made his debut at 16 years and 344 days for Borussia Dortmund.
After a short loan spell at Feyenoord, Sahin returned to Dortmund, starring in their title-winning campaign in the 2010-11 season. He scored seven and assisted eight in Dortmund 's success that season and was voted Bundesliga Player of the Season.
So, it was no surprise when Real Madrid came calling. After a summer-long speculation, Sahin finally penned a six-year contract with Real Madrid. After failing to hit the heights at Madrid and Liverpool, Sahin returned Dortmund in 2013. After five seasons with Dortmund, Sahin joined Bundesliga rivals Werder Bremen in 2018.
#5 Hamit Altıntop (Turkey)
Born in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany, Hamit Altıntop began his career at SG Wattenscheid 09 before moving to Schalke FC in 2003. After four successful seasons at Schalke, Hamit joined Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich in 2007.
Hamit, a versatile player who can play in multiple positions went on to lift the Bundesliga title twice with Bayern in 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons. After failing to negotiate a contract extension with Bayern, Hamit moved to Real Madrid in 2011. Failing to flourish at Madrid, he was offloaded to Turkish club Galatasaray the following year. His stint at Galatasaray netted two Super Liga titles.
At the international level, Hamit decided to play for Turkey. Between, 2004 and 2014, he earned 82 caps, scoring on 7 occasions. The highlight of his international career was when he helped Turkey reach the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2008.
Hamit has a twin brother Halil Altintop, who has played for clubs such as Schalke 04, Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt and FC Augsburg. Halil has 38 international caps to name.
#6 Hakan Çalhanoğlu (Turkey)
Born in Mannheim, Germany, Çalhanoğlu opted to represent Turkey at the international level, making his debut in a World Cup qualifier in 2013 against Andorra. The attacking midfielder has been capped 38 times, scoring nine goals.
Calhanoglu explaining his decision to play for Turkey told the Milliyet newspaper, “It’s thanks to the Germans that I became a footballer. But playing for the Turkish national team is an honor. I want to be Turkey’s Mesut Özil.”
Çalhanoğlu started his career with Karlsruher SC before joining Hamburg SV in 2012. In his only season with Hamburg, Çalhanoğlu made a name for himself, scoring outrageous free-kicks.
After a series of impressive performances, Hamburg was unable to prevent him from joining league rivals Bayern Leverkusen for a fee of €14.5 million. During his time at the club, Çalhanoğlu notched up 17 goals in 79 appearances.
After three seasons with Leverkusen, the elegant number.10 joined Serie A club AC Milan in 2017.