A Model of Successful Integration

Ilkay Gündogan is a rapidly rising star in German football. German born, but with Turkish roots, he has won the German Championship and the DFB Cup with Borussia Dortmund, has been selected for the German squad for UEFA Euro 2012, and is “Integration Ambassador” for the German Football Association. André Tucic sends us this profile

When the whistle blew at the end of the DFB Cup final, there was no end to the rejoicing on the Dortmund side. Borussia Dortmund (BVB) had beaten FC Bayern Munich 5-2 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Ilkay Gündogan was also overcome with joy. Yet when he met fans, shook hands and exchanged slaps on the back, he suddenly paused for a moment: a fan was holding out a Turkish flag for him to take.

In such moments, it is commonplace for football players to drape themselves with their national flag, thereby highlighting their roots. But Gündogan, who only recently decided to play for the German and not the Turkish national team, turned down the offer of the flag.

Instead, he ran back to his celebrating teammates. A little bit later, however he could be seen with the white crescent moon on a red background wrapped around his body. He probably thought to himself: “I have Turkish roots and I should be allowed to express them.”

“I am just as proud of my Turkish roots as I am of my German heritage,” says Ilkay Gündogan. His father Erfan and mother Ayten were born in Turkey. Ilkay and his brother Ilker grew up in the city of Gelsenkirchen in the industrial Ruhr region, a good place for German–Turkish football players. After all, the city is the birthplace of Hamit and Halil Altintop and Mesut Özil. The Altintops play for Turkey, while Özil wears the German eagle on his breast.

“Illy,” as Ilkay Gündogan is called, could have played for his parents’ homeland if he had wanted to. “Of course, my Turkish heritage plays a role. But I was born and raised here and my mentality is German,” he said recently. Yet before he made his debut with the German national team last fall, he had to earn his stripes on many football fields.

Reverse Turkish-German immigration in football

17 September 2010
Young football players with Turkish roots who have grown up in Germany and cut their teeth in the German football system are in much demand — particularly in Turkey. At the moment, 59 men who fit this description can be found playing in Turkey’s top league. And, every year, agents are bringing a fresh batch of talented young men — with Turkish passports and “Made in Germany” pedigrees — to its clubs.
Talent scouts focus their poaching efforts on German clubs with good reputations for devoting a lot of resources to training their younger players, such as Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. They woo the young men — some of whom have only just turned 16 — away with promises of seeing regular playing time on a first-division Turkish team, higher pay and a chance to live in Turkey. As Vural puts it: “We’re bringing the boys back home.”
Still, it’s not always easy for the talented young players from Germany to adjust to living and playing in Turkey. In Germany, player Aygünes was always called “the Turk”; but, in Turkey, people call him the Almanci, the German, on account of his accent. In Germany, he would often get upset about all the rules and envy the energy and vitality of the Turks. But now, in bustling Istanbul, he occasionally misses the orderly, slow pace of life back in Germany.