The German footballer of Turkish descent left the national team last year following uproar over his meeting and posing for photos with Turkey’s president, widely criticised in Germany for his domestic policies. Almost a year later the scandal has been fuelled by reports of another photo-op.

Mesut Ozil, once a poster boy of the German national football team, has prompted a new wave of criticism over his public support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom the Arsenal player apparently asked to be a guest of honour at his wedding.

The top athlete, now playing for the English Premier League club, and his fiancée, Miss Turkey Amine Gulse, reportedly met the politician at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport to hand him an invitation for their very special day. The photos from the meeting, which took place during the campaign ahead of the country’s 2019 local elections scheduled for 31 March, received massive attention in football-crazy Turkey and abroad.

Although Ozil resigned from the national team following the backlash for his relations with Erdogan, the recent report has prompted a row in Germany where Erdogan is defined by many journalists and politicians as an autocrat. 

Angela Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun joined the backlash over this move, saying “The fact this is still going on will disappoint a lot of football fans, including me”.

The Greens’ leading figure Cem Özdemir, who like Ozil has a Turkish background, said that “everyone can invite whomever he wants to his wedding but pointed out that such role models should take their special status into account”.

“But both current and former national players are role models and must ask themselves whether they live up to that role if they indulge autocrats who enrich themselves at the expense of their country and make their opponents disappear in dungeons. I think that is inappropriate”, the politician said, as cited by The Telegraph. 

State secretary of the SPD group in Berlin Sawsan Chebli, who is of Palestinian origin, echoed his statements, tweeting that Ozil “is a role model for millions of young people”, and noted that she finds his move “irresponsible”. 

The move also prompted a storm on Twitter.

​However, some defended Ozil, pointing out that he is not on the national team anymore.

It has not been reported whether Erdogan, who used to be a footballer himself and is known to be an avid fan, accepted the invitation to the couple’s nuptials, which will probably take place in Turkey.

Notably, he has already been the best man at the weddings of two Turkish footballers — Arda Turan (formerly of FC Barcelona, but now at Başakşehir) and Gökhan Töre (formerly of HSV, now at Beşiktas). 

In May 2018, Ozil and Ilkay Gündogan, another German player of Turkish descent, faced massive backlash after meeting with Erdogan and presenting him a jersey, as many claimed they had assisted in his “election campaign stunt” after the photos of the meeting emerged online, including the German Football Federation (DFB) and its president Richard Grindel. In response, Ozil stated then that the picture was not meant to deliver any political message, but solely demonstrate respect for his origin.

Ozil, 30, who became a World Cup 2014 winner as part of the German national team, later revealed he and his family has been abused on social media; they have also received hate mail and threatening phone calls. Several months later, he announced he was leaving the German national team, saying that when playing for Germany at international tournaments he has “this feeling of racism and disrespect”.