He Turkish The national team moves to its European Championship headquarters in Barsinghausen, west of Hanover, where the Lower Saxony Football Association has its football school. The Sporthotel Fuchsbachtal offers coach Vincenzo Montella everything he needs to prepare for the tournament: “five grass fields, an artificial grass field, a gym and top-class cuisine,” as Kicker carefully lists. At first the Turks did not want to be in Germany.

What we Germans tend to hide is that we were not the only ones who really wanted to host Euro 2024. We had a serious competitor.

In mid-2018, Türkiye fired its president Recep. Tayyip Erdogan With all the money and arguments they put into the UEFA bid, in the end they had to discover that they had no chance against Germany. The counterarguments of then: economic situation and infrastructure.

I had some questions for Erdogan.

Well, when we are asked about the country's economic performance, we Germans should silently nod. With a route network where only two out of three trains reach their destination on time, we have to meekly cough: “At least!”

President Erdogan grandly promised countermeasures for Türkiye. It doesn't sound so different when traffic light coalition politicians make electoral promises. But that shouldn't be the topic here. I want to tell you how I investigated Erdogan.

UEFA's decision on who will host the 2024 European Championship was imminent when I met with an advisor to Erdogan at a media summit in Lake Como. At dinner I was a bit provocative by pointing out that representatives of the Turkish government liked to complain about their disadvantage in the West, but rarely took a position on critical issues. I didn't give up: I had some questions for President Erdogan about football.

We remember: Before the 2018 World Cup In Russia Erdogan captured the two German national team players, Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gündogan, when he posted a photo with both of them. Tempers flared because their families have Turkish roots, but they both played for Germany. Can the Turkish president abuse them for his political messages? And that in the application phase for EM 2024?

Erdogan sat in the last car of the column and made me wait.

My arguments were successful. Two weeks later, in September 2018, I got an appointment with President Erdogan. Meeting point: Saturday afternoon, Yildiz Palace, Istanbul. I had to wait there for three and a half hours before I was notified of Erdogan's arrival. I can still hear the sound of a convoy of a dozen armored vehicles pulling up to the palace courtyard, the sound of pebbles crunching under the tires. I stood at the front door on shaky legs.

Erdogan sat in the last car of the column and made me wait. All around me: hordes of security guards with guns drawn. If I had known the stoic look he greeted me with: who knows if he would have ever requested the interview.

But something monstrous happened. Erdogan saw the Adidas ball I had brought him as a gift, he heard my friendly greetings in Turkish and a smile shone.

Erdogan's advisor said: “Presidential shots cannot be carried out”

He pointed to the grass that decorates the patio. She still hadn't spoken a single word since he got out of the Mercedes. It wasn't until we were side by side on the field, me in a suit and tie, that he asked me, “Are you a good goalie?” I will never forget that phrase.

I said yes: “The best!” We walked a few feet apart and an assistant told me, half jokingly, “You can't do presidential shots.” He didn't sound threatening.

I held the first two and couldn't really do anything on the third. Erdogan liked my relaxed attitude and he invited me to the palace for an arranged meeting. I have almost 30 minutes. He elaborated on everything, explained the figures on economic strength, the typical political talk we know in Germany.

He also explained Özil and Gündogan. That it's okay to play in another country, but you shouldn't ignore your roots.

He provocatively posed the counter-question: “Should we, as a German footballer playing in our country, take a photo with Mrs. Merkel (Federal Chancellor/Note 2018. Red.) then lynch him? This logic is incomprehensible.” Özil and Gündogan could “feel that they belong to both countries. The country where they were born and the country where their parents come from.”

“We are proud of our fellow citizens living in Germany”

He understands that Özil and Gündogan probably played in Germany for professional reasons and not in Turkey: “We are proud that our fellow citizens live in Germany as their country of origin.” “But they live in Germany and of course they will fight for Germany's success. The fact that they play in Germany is a private matter.”

No, I didn't ask as an investigation. In any case, I wouldn't have been able to get a confession out of him about human rights in Türkiye. It was about football and also about migration. At that time, Mesut Özil initiated the break with Germany and his team is now part of Erdogan's team;

Ilkay Gündogan, for his part, was promoted to DFB-Captain and is now considered a successful model for integration in Germany (although he has not played in Germany for a long time). Life paths can be very different.

Would Türkiye have been a good host of the Euro Cup? No idea. All I know is that I defeated President Erdogan 2-1 in a penalty shootout.