While most of the players had already made themselves comfortable on the team bus, Ilkay Gundogan was still standing inside the Wolfsburg stadium. With a calm voice, lowered gaze, almost humble, the 28-year-old reported a gesture that was noted by the fans rather silently, but was actually a special one. After the Erdogan affair in the summer of 2018, the whistles, the accusations of racism, the dramatic DFB exit of Mesut ozil, Gundogan now put on the captain's armband in the second half of the 1-1 (0-1) against Serbia. His 30. The international match was his own personal new beginning.
After the first 45 minutes in the dressing room, the substituted Manuel Neuer handed the 28-year-old the only small but symbolic piece of cloth. "I looked around and had the feeling that Ilkay is the most experienced of the players who were eligible," explained national coach Joachim Low. "It was unexpected," told Gundogan himself. "But of course I received the armband with great respect and pride."
But as commonplace as it would normally be for the most experienced player to be handed the captain's armband, the moment in Wolfsburg was extraordinary. For that, you only have to jump back three quarters of a year, when Germany was in turmoil. Gundogan and ozil had smiled into the photo camera together with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the World Cup in Russia. A loud discussion about integration followed. Not a few whistled at the two Turkish-born professionals. ozil said goodbye to the DFB with a big bang, including accusations of racism, after his World Cup exit.
Gundogan, however, chose a different path, explaining himself before and even after the tournament. "We didn't want to support anyone with it or harm anyone with it," Gundogan said in a WDR documentary about the photos. Now, after many had already wanted to chase him out of the team, he was its highest representative in Wolfsburg. So a Gelsenkirchener with Turkish roots can be happy at the DFB after all.
But no one in the stadium wanted to mention Erdogan's name again. There was rather talk of the incident or the story, which according to national team director Oliver Bierhoff is now ticked off. "It makes me proud," he said. "There were no reactions from the crowd in the second half, you can see from that that it's also good now," Bierhoff added.
Gundogan wants to take responsibility
"I have always tried throughout the difficult months to continue to contribute to the team," explained Gundogan. He said it had been important to him to behave in a character-free manner. So now it seems he is becoming a respected part of the DFB eleven again. Sporting helps the strategist in any case. In the English Premier League, he gives Manchester City since his transfer in 2016 from Borussia Dortmund the prudent organizer at the European top level, who knows how to set the pace of a game. Against Serbia, Gundogan was convincing at least in the second half, spurred on by the captain's armband. "I wanted to take on more responsibility. Because now I also want to go ahead."
Overall, however, there were still creaks in the processes. Many fans even whistled at the half-time whistle, which irritated the team. But it visibly lacked structure. Low's eleven appeared at times to be the gang of rascals that it is. Courageous. Wild. But also impetuous and reckless. "Of course, the young players still lack self-image and also self-confidence," Gundogan said. It only got better in the second half. Because the experienced Marco Reus (29) had an invigorating effect after his substitution, hence the equalizer (69.) prepared by Leon Goretzka.
This esprit will also be on Sunday in Amsterdam (20.45 p.m./RTL) in the first European Championship qualifying match against the Netherlands. Then Manuel Neuer will once again stand in goal as captain. Gundogan was also not appointed official vice-captain. Toni Kroos, who was still spared, also already had the armband around. Just like Joshua Kimmich. Perhaps the evening as 45-minute captain will therefore remain a one-off, but for Gundogan's further DFB career it nevertheless has enormous significance. "This is a curious turn of events after all that has happened," he said.
Then he too left to make himself comfortable in the team bus.