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Bundesliga: Five major Rückrunde talking points

With the tides turning, the 2018/19 campaign is gearing up to be a defining one for the Bundesliga. At the halfway stage, DW looks at the big questions set to be answered in the second half of the season. With its reputation enhanced thanks to entertainment value alone, the tides are turning in the Bundesliga. No longer is Bayern Munich's dominance the only talking point on the front pages of newspapers and websites around the world. Read more: Bundesliga 2018/19 half-time review Ahead of the start of the second half of the season, DW takes a look at five major questions being asked heading into the Rückrunde of the most pulsating campaigns of the last decade.… Do we have ourselves a Bundesliga title race? Not to be too like the meme of Rose from Titanic, but it seems like an age since we last had a competitive Bundesliga title race. Bayern's title-winning exploits have been impressive, but have only stoked the fires of those hoping to see them fail in their bid for a seventh-straight Meisterschale Unlike the last six seasons, Niko Kovac's side aren't league leaders at the halfway stage of the campaign. Borussia Dortmund took that honor as their brand of football sent pulses racing, whilst thrusting them into the role of heroic protagonist against the Bavarians' tyrannous hegemony. While Gladbach and Leipzig are keeping things interesting, hopes are being pinned on BVB. Their six-point cushion needs to be protected ahead of Der Klassiker in Munich on matchday 28 - a crucial game for keeping their title hopes, and the title race, alive. Read more: Uli Hoeness is no longer fit for Bayern Munich Can the Bundesliga keep the floodgates open? From Luka Jovic's five-goal haul against Düsseldorf to Fortuna's Dodi Lukebakio becoming the first player to ever score a Bundesliga hat-trick against Manuel Neuer, the first half of the season was riddled with goals and their subsequent storylines. The last time six sides had 30 goals or more to their name after Matchday 17 was the 2013/14 campaign – eight sides achieved the feat that season – this season Dortmund lead the way with 44. With just eight of a possible 153 games ending goalless, Germany's top flight boasted no less than 3.04 goals per game in the Hinrunde, which puts it top in terms of goals-per-game amongst Europe's top five leagues. If that's not entertainment value, then what is? More of the same, please! Read more: 2018/19 January transfer window overview How big a role will rising stars play? Germany's top flight has always been a place where rising prospects have been able to realize their potential at an early age. Even by Bundesliga standards, this season has been rich in under-21s rising to the occasion. Luka Jovic's goalscoring exploits have been jaw-dropping, Kai Havertz is operating at "level 29” – significantly higher than most of his Leverkusen teammates – and Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho have captured the attention of the English press, which speaks volumes. With the likes of Alphosno Davies, Josh Sargent and maybe Callum Hudson-Odoi ready to burst onto the scene, the impact of youth is not likely to diminish and there are plenty of headlines left to be grabbed. Is Lewandowski's Torjägerkanone crown at risk? Absolutely. Robert Lewandowski is one of five players to have broken double digits in the first half of the season, but he trails the league leaders Paco Alcacer and the aforementioned Jovic by two. Competition has brought the best out of the Pole in the past – reference his reaction to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's efforts – and he's going to need to be on the top of his game given the rate at which some of his fiercest rivals are scoring at. It would be quite something if Alcacer (42 minutes per goal) and Jovic (84) went a whole season needing less than 90 minutes per goal. Whose head will be the next to roll? Tayfun Korkut and Heiko Herrlich were the only head coaches to be shown the door before the winter break, but more heads will undoubtedly roll before the campaign's conclusion. The relegation battle looks set to be fierce this season and, while Hannover and Nürnberg are at risk of falling adrift, plenty of coaches could find themselves in the hot seat. Domenico Tedesco is amongst the bookies favorites and you've got to think, if the Royal Blues form doesn't improve and quickly, he may not be able to hold onto the reigns much longer.

With the tides turning, the 2018/19 campaign is gearing up to be a defining one for the Bundesliga. At the halfway stage, DW looks at the big questions set to be answered in the second half of the season. With its reputation enhanced thanks to entertainment value alone, the tides are turning in the Bundesliga. No longer is Bayern Munich’s ... Read More »

Marco Reus to miss Russia game as Löw continues Germany’s slow evolution

Germany face Russia in a friendly on Thursday, but will be without Dortmund forward Marco Reus. Joachim Löw is expected to field some younger players but has warned that the evolution of the team will be a slow process. Marco Reus will play no part in Germany's friendly game against Russia in Leipzig, coach Joachim Löw has confirmed. Reus suffered a bruised foot in Borussia Dortmund's victory over Bayern Munich and will sit out the game in Leipzig, but could feature in Germany's potentially crucial Nations League game against the Netherlands on Monday. "Marco Reus will not be able to play tomorrow," Löw told reporters on Wednesday. "He arrived with a foot injury from the game against Bayern. He will not train tonight and we will have to see if it works for Monday." Chance for youth Reus' absence appears to be a precaution with the more important test to come, meaning Löw could give youth a chance to shine against Russia. But even with Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner all expected to start, Löw warned that the team won't evolve overnight. "Building a new team is not something that happens out of nothing. It is a process," said Löw, who has dropped Jerome Boateng for this round of fixtures. "The rebuilding phase has started and the process is ongoing." "Every successful team will have a good mix between young and more experienced players," he said, when asked about out-of-form Thomas Müller, another World Cup winner, who was part of the squad. "Young players need some players to guide them in difficult moments. We do not have too many players who have this experience." Relegation 'not end of the world' Germany could be relegated from their Nations League group if results don't go their way when France play the Netherlands followed by Germany's game against the Dutch — but that's not a scenario that overly concerns Löw. "We don't have things in our own hands anymore in order to stay in the league," admitted Löw, after Germany managed just one point from their first three games. "Perhaps we made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on the Nations League — it would not be the end of the world if we have to play in a lower division in 2020."

Germany face Russia in a friendly on Thursday, but will be without Dortmund forward Marco Reus. Joachim Löw is expected to field some younger players but has warned that the evolution of the team will be a slow process. Marco Reus will play no part in Germany’s friendly game against Russia in Leipzig, coach Joachim Löw has confirmed. Reus suffered ... Read More »

Grindel backs new Club World Cup plans as he seeks new FIFA term

German FA boss Reinhard Grindel has backed FIFA plans for a new Club World Cup as he seeks re-election to FIFA's executive council. Grindel also supports scrapping the Confederations Cup, which Germany won in 2017. German Football Federation (DFB) president Grindel says it would make "more sense" to hold a Club World Cup every four years rather than annually, putting him broadly in line with his counterpart at FIFA, Gianni Infantino. Grindel, who has come under fire in recent months for Germany's poor World Cup preformance and the fallout of Mesut Özil's international resignation, also wants to scrap the Confederations Cup, which Germany won in 2017, again in line with proposals Infantino made recently. "I think it makes more sense to host the Club World Cup every four years instead of the Confederations Cup," he told an event on Wednesday evening in Traisa, in Germany. The current Club World Cup, played every year in December and featuring the winner of each of the six continental confederations, has "little significance," Grindel said. He said he had "always criticized" the Confederations Cup, which is held every four years in the year before a World Cup and played in the World Cup host country. After objections from European body UEFA, FIFA are looking in to different ways to revamp or scrap the Club World Cup and Conderations CUp respectively. Grindel's support for Infantino's plans comes at the same time as news that he will seek a new term on the executive council of FIFA. He is now a UEFA candidate for a four-year term on the FIFA body. Two others, Fernando Gomes of Portugal and Georgios Koumas, are standing for two positions on two-year terms. One man certain to get four more years in his job is Alexander Ceferin, with the UEFA president confirmed on Thursday as the only candidate for re-election to his post.

German FA boss Reinhard Grindel has backed FIFA plans for a new Club World Cup as he seeks re-election to FIFA’s executive council. Grindel also supports scrapping the Confederations Cup, which Germany won in 2017. German Football Federation (DFB) president Grindel says it would make “more sense” to hold a Club World Cup every four years rather than annually, putting ... Read More »

German Cup: Schalke’s new boys’ struggles highlighted by Mark Uth’s goal drought

If the goals have dried up for Schalke, for Mark Uth, this is a drought. Despite scoring the winning penalty in a shootout win over Cologne, the Germany striker has gone nearly 17 hours without scoring for his new club. Forget the blood, the screams and the ghosts. It's a terrifying number that will haunt Mark Uth on Halloween evening. The former Hoffenheim hit man has now gone 999 minutes without landing a proper punch for the Royal Blues. The striker prevented another Schalke emergency when he netted the winner in a 6-5 shootout victory over Cologne (1-1 after extra time), but the fact Uth stepped up seventh speaks volumes about his lack of confidence. Schalke have not exactly been free-scoring themselves this season — Nabil Bentaleb's injury time equalizer from the spot was their first goal for nearly 400 minutes — but it's fair to say this isn't what the Royal Blues expected when they signed the Cologne-born forward on a free. Slow start in Gelsenkirchen By this stage last season, Uth had scored eight. By the time Schalke announced his future arrival in January of this year, four more had arrived. He'd finish the campaign with 17 goals, one every 155 minutes. Uth was 10 games into his current run when he was called up for the Germany squad for the first time, winning a first cap in the3-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. He didn't score. There are mitigating factors. While he had five shots in 120 minutes against second tier Cologne, none of them were in clear-cut positions, while he has also been utilized in a much deeper role by Domenico Tedesco at times this season. He's also gone from Julian Nagelsmann, a coach happy to outscore the opposition, to Domenico Tedesco, one whose conservatism is starting to catch up with him. Not the only guilty party In contrast to Hoffenheim last term, where Serge Gnabry, Kerem Demirbay and Andrej Kramaric could all ease the weight on Uth's shoulders, Schalke's lack of quality in attacking areas is becoming more apparent by the match. Tedesco's men have scored 10 in their 14 games this term. None of their striking options has ever got more than 15 in a league season at any level and their ponderous attacks frequently run out of steam in the final third, with Daniel Caligiuri the only player regularly capable of offering a spark of production. But Uth isn't the only one of Schalke's summer signings who has failed to find his form. His former Hoffenheim teammate Sebastian Rudy, signed to add class and nous to the midfield, has had difficulties nailing down a first team spot in a side threatened by relegation while fellow central midfielders Omar Mascarell and Suat Serdar have so far proved significant downgrades on Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer. Tedesco must now hope that Uth's rediscovery of the ball hitting the net sparks a fire in the man most likely to get him goals.

If the goals have dried up for Schalke, for Mark Uth, this is a drought. Despite scoring the winning penalty in a shootout win over Cologne, the Germany striker has gone nearly 17 hours without scoring for his new club. Forget the blood, the screams and the ghosts. It’s a terrifying number that will haunt Mark Uth on Halloween evening. ... Read More »

Opinion: Alonso’s right, Lewis Hamilton belongs in F1’s highest echelon

Only Michael Schumacher has had more success in Formula 1. And Lewis Hamilton might yet haul him in. For DW's Mark Hallam, Hamilton's "greatest rival" Fernando Alonso summed up the Brit's place in the sport's history. It's been Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel vying for world championships in most of the last nine seasons. Hamilton now has five titles to Vettel's four, and the German's error-prone season doesn't bode well for Ferrari in 2019. Hamilton delivered a series of vintage performances this year: besting Kimi Raikkonen one-on-one in Ferrari's backyard in Monza, recovering from 14th on the grid to win on Vettel's home turf in Germany, delivering a qualifying lap for the ages to claim pole and later the win in Singapore, and looking imperious all weekendat Japan's technical and challenging Suzuka circuit. As Hamilton's form improved, Vettel's dropped off; a tight title race morphed into a bit of a walkover. But in many ways, Hamilton's career is better defined by its connection to another, less decorated rival — Fernando Alonso. Back in 2007, few would have given the rookie British driver any chance of keeping pace against a 26-year-old Alonso. The Spaniard was the 2005 and 2006 world champion — the youngest in the sport's history until Vettel came along — and the man who had just brought a decade of Michael Schumacher dominance to a shuddering halt. 'He showed talent from day 1' But, as Alonso himself said earlier this month, Hamilton "showed talent from day 1." He finished on the podium in his first ever grand prix and within six races, he'd picked up a pole position and a win. Most astonishingly of all, it took 10 races until Hamilton finally failed to finish in the top three. Hamilton became such a threat to Alonso in 2007 that the two really couldn't co-exist at McLaren. Team boss Ron Dennis didn't want to stifle Hamilton's fairy-tale rookie season, while Alonso felt he wasn't getting the team-leader treatment he'd been promised when signing up as the hottest property on the grid. An amusing commercial for team sponsor Santander — depicting Hamilton and Alonso racing to be first to get from the track to their hotel rooms, all to the tune of "Anything you can do, I can do better" — was just a little too on-the-nose. The uneasy alliance couldn't last. The upshot — virtually unthinkable 12 years ago — is Fernando Alonso retiring from F1 with just the 2005 and 2006 championships to his name, as Lewis Hamilton claims his fifth drivers' title. Probably Michael, Fangio, Senna, Prost, Lewis' Alonso, asked to rank his F1 top five, included the man who scuppered his shot at a spot among the most successful in the sport — choosing Michael Schumacher, Juan-Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Hamilton. It's extremely difficult to argue with this selection, despite other strong candidates. Perhaps Jim Clark had the potential to join this exalted company, but for his untimely death at Hockenheim in 1968. Some might argue for Fangio's great 1950s rival Stirling Moss, five times a championship runner-up. Niki Lauda won three titles despite his life-threatening crash, even while taking a four-year break from F1 in his prime. And a few could ask what might have been for the man from Oviedo, if Hamilton had never joined Alonso at McLaren. 'Arguably the greatest I've driven against' Hamilton himself hinted at this when Alonso announced his retirement from F1 earlier this season, saying Alonso was probably the best driver he'd ever competed against, and that he deserved greater success in the sport. Never shy of lacing his compliments with some criticism, the Brit also suggested Alonso perhaps wasn't as sly or as shrewd outside the cockpit as he was speedy behind the wheel. "It's not just about being a great driver it's also how you maneuver, how you play the game," Hamilton said. "Like a chess game, it's how you position yourself — all these different things that are also part of the package." In 12 seasons on the grid, Hamilton has shown this mix of pure pace and political guile. Moving to Mercedes from McLaren ready for the 2013 campaign seemed a bold if not suicidal career move at the time; six seasons and four world titles later, it looks like a stroke of genius. But to this day, the damage Hamilton did to Fernando Alonso's F1 legacy remains perhaps the best indicator of his impact on the sport.

Only Michael Schumacher has had more success in Formula 1. And Lewis Hamilton might yet haul him in. For DW’s Mark Hallam, Hamilton’s “greatest rival” Fernando Alonso summed up the Brit’s place in the sport’s history. It’s been Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel vying for world championships in most of the last nine seasons. Hamilton now has five titles to ... Read More »

Nations League: Toothless Germany slump to dismal defeat in Amsterdam

The Netherlands beat Germany for the first time in 16 years as Joachim Löw's side produced another dismal performance, slumping to a 3-0 defeat in Amsterdam. The loss ramps up the pressure on Germany's beleaguered coach. Netherlands 3-0 Germany (Van Dijk 30', Depay 86', Wijnaldum 90') Germany's dismal year under Joachim Löw continued with a spineless performance in Amsterdam. Löw's side created plenty of chances but couldn't finish any of them, as Ronald Koeman's team ruthlessly disposed of Germany, with a goal before the break and two more in the final five minutes. The lack of cutting edge in front of goal is a big concern for Löw, given the talent at his disposal. And things won't get any easier for his team, who now travel to Paris in need of a win against the world champions. Germany made the stronger start in the Dutch capital, pinning the Netherlands back in the early stages. Timo Werner had the first chance early on, darting onto the end of Thomas Müller's bent through ball, but was unable to apply to finishing touch to the move. Müller then came close to scoring himself, unleashing a fine first-time shot from a Toni Kroos cutback, only for Jasper Cillessen to deny him with an athletic save to his right. The momentum was with Germany but the Netherlands struck to immediately take the wind out of Germany's sails. A corner from the right was met by Ryan Babel, who out-jumped Jonas Hector to head against the bar, and the rebound was nodded in by the towering figure of Virgil van Dijk. The Netherlands were centimeters away from making it two shortly after when a low cross was flashed across Manuel Neuer's goal by Denzel Dumfries. With Babel about to tuck away the Netherlands' second, Matthias Ginter made a superb goal-line clearance to keep Germany in the game. Müller spurned a chance to level for Germany when he was put clean through by Emre Can as Germany struggled to find a cutting edge in attack. Memphis Depay could have made things worse for Germany when he escaped the notice of the very poor Jerome Boateng on the stroke of halftime, but couldn't direct his header on target — much to the relief of the stranded Neuer. An open first half gave way to a cagier second as Netherlands sat deeper in an attempt to hurt Germany on the break. Instead, the strategy played into Germany's hands as it allowed the former world champions to dictate the game — but Löw's side just couldn't finish off their chances. Löw threw on Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler as Germany became increasingly desperate, and Sane missed a golden opportunity to break his 14-game international duck, but snatched at his shot when he only had Cillessen to beat, dragging the ball wide when he had to score. The Netherlands were a threat on the break and could have wrapped the win when the impressive Depay led the attack alone and went for goal, but Neuer denied him. It mattered little, as Depay sealed a huge win for the Dutch with four minutes to play, capping a slick counter attack after Julian Draxler gave the ball away. Depay's callous finish showed Germany exactly what needed to be done. Georginio Wijnaldum put the icing on the cake in stoppage time, gliding past Boateng and Hector, and finishing expertly into the bottom corner to complete a miserable night for the Germans.

The Netherlands beat Germany for the first time in 16 years as Joachim Löw’s side produced another dismal performance, slumping to a 3-0 defeat in Amsterdam. The loss ramps up the pressure on Germany’s beleaguered coach. Netherlands 3-0 Germany (Van Dijk 30′, Depay 86′, Wijnaldum 90′) Germany’s dismal year under Joachim Löw continued with a spineless performance in Amsterdam. Löw’s ... Read More »

Cristiano Ronaldo accused of raping American woman in 2009

Kathryn Mayorga, 34, claims the Portuguese football player raped her in a Las Vegas hotel room, according to German media outlet Der Spiegel. The magazine say Ronaldo paid her $375,000 for her silence. The five-time World Player of the Year denies the allegations, insisting the sex was consensual. Mayorga's lawyer is now questioning the validity of an out-of-court settlement agreed in Nevada, in which Ronaldo reportedly paid $375,000 (€323,000) for her silence. Der Spiegel claim the lawyer's case is based on a document containing Ronaldo's account of what happened on 12th June 2009. In it, the 33-year old is quoted as saying "she said 'no' and 'stop' several times." Mayorga has now spoken publicly for the first time about her encounter with the Juventus forward, who was under contract at Real Madrid when the incident is supposed to have taken place, claiming to have been raped anally after spending an evening partying with Ronaldo while he was on holiday with his cousin and brother-in-law in Las Vegas. Mayorga also described events following the incident, describing how Ronaldo fell to his knees and told her he was "99 per cent" a "good guy" let down by the "one per cent". One of the most high-profile sports stars on the planet, the news is likely to achieve global media attention, with Ronaldo and his legal team yet to repsond publicly to the accusations.

Kathryn Mayorga, 34, claims the Portuguese football player raped her in a Las Vegas hotel room, according to German media outlet Der Spiegel. The magazine say Ronaldo paid her $375,000 for her silence. The five-time World Player of the Year denies the allegations, insisting the sex was consensual. Mayorga’s lawyer is now questioning the validity of an out-of-court settlement agreed ... Read More »

Neymar injury an opportunity for Julian Draxler at PSG

From rising star to Germany regular, Julian Draxler's career has long been trending upward, but he's struggled for playing time since joining Paris Saint-Germain. Will Neymar's injury offer him a pre-World Cup boost? Six months ago, things were looking pretty good for Julian Draxler. After securing the move away from Wolfsburg that he'd long been angling for, he'd become a regular in Paris Saint-Germain's version of the Galacticos, captained Germany to a Confederations Cup win and had the inside track toward a starting spot in Germany's World Cup defense in Russia. But then, at the beginning of August, the French club broke the world transfer record to sign a Brazilian from Barcelona who played in his position. Since Neymar arrived at the Parc des Princes, there's been little doubt that he's the star of the show, with 29 goals in 29 games to go along with the headline-grabbing birthday parties and public rows over penalty duties. But his arrival has been less than positive for Draxler, who has completed 90 minutes just six times for his club this season, with only a handful of cameo appearances in his favored position on the left wing. Frustrations evident After PSG's 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 — in which Draxler played just nine minutes — the 24-year-old let his frustrations slip to German broadcaster ZDF. “In the Bernabeu, you don’t want to watch 84 minutes from the bench but, with our squad, you don’t always get the choice,” he said. The extent of Neymar's metatarsal fracture, which he suffered in PSG's 3-0 win over Marseille on Sunday, is unclear at this stage, but it appears he'll be out for at least a month. This means he is almost certain to miss the return leg on March 6, despite PSG coach Unai Emery's suggestion there's a "small chance" he'll be ready. Draxler would surely revel in another game against a team he dismantled while playing for Wolfsburg in 2016 . However, his place is not totally assured, with Argentinians Angel di Maria or Javier Pastore among the alternatives for the Parisian club. A chance to make his mark Despite the competition, Emery, who has often tried to shoehorn the German in to a central midfield since Neymar's arrival, spoke highly of Draxler in December as rumors swirled about a switch to the Premier League. "He's in a constant evolution and he still has a lot of energy. At PSG, Draxler is in very good hands, he's a great contributor to our game, he's learning a lot," Emery said. "I talk to him a lot and I'm very demanding with him and he's one of those very ambitious players and he shows that with good performances, also for the national team, and he's a very important player for us." As Emery suggested, Draxler is a key man for Joachim Löw and his name is surely inked in to Germany's 23-man squad for Russia 2018. But, with Leroy Sané impressing for Manchester City, Julian Brandt showing flickers of form at Bayer Leverkusen and Marco Reus impressing in his latest comeback at Borussia Dortmund, Draxler needs regular playing time to find the form and fitness that would secure him a starting spot. With another crunch game against Marseille in the French Cup on Wednesday before the Madrid game and prestige international friendlies against Spain and Brazil at the end of March, Neymar's absence could offer an opportunity for PSG's half-forgotten man to restate his case.

From rising star to Germany regular, Julian Draxler’s career has long been trending upward, but he’s struggled for playing time since joining Paris Saint-Germain. Will Neymar’s injury offer him a pre-World Cup boost? Six months ago, things were looking pretty good for Julian Draxler. After securing the move away from Wolfsburg that he’d long been angling for, he’d become a ... Read More »

Usain Bolt to play charity football match amid pro contract hint

After his retirement from the track, Usain Bolt is making strides towards a new career. The Jamaican sprint great will captain a star-studded side in charity football match and has hinted at a professional contract. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Usain Bolt is set to make a return to the sporting world in a charity football match which has previously attracted such luminaries as Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, Brazilian legend Ronaldinho, actor Will Ferrell and pop star Robbie Williams. The eight-time Olympic gold medallist announced on Twitter on Tuesday that he will be joining the Soccer Aid World XI - a motley crew put together to help raise funds for the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef. Since retiring from athletics he's also flirted with playing cricket and been pictured at the US Grand Prix. Read more: Untouchable Usain Bolt bows out in London Bolt, long linked with trials at Borussia Dortmund thanks to both parties' relationship with Puma, will captain the side, with Williams skippering the English XI that will line up against them. "Robbie and his England team better watch out as I won't be going easy on them," said Bolt, who also claimed he has a "special celebration" planned should his side win. Thee announcement came hours after Bolt, 31, had sent out a tweet suggesting that he'd signed for a team before South African Premier Soccer League outfit Mamelodi Sundowns put out a tweet of their own featuring Bolt in their training gear and a knowing hint about his future. But it seems Bolt's tweet was only related to the charity match, with the Puma logo on the Mamelodi Sundowns kit probably explaining their part in the somewhat confusing series of events. The Soccer Aid match will take part on June 10 at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.

After his retirement from the track, Usain Bolt is making strides towards a new career. The Jamaican sprint great will captain a star-studded side in charity football match and has hinted at a professional contract. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Usain Bolt is set to make a return to the sporting world in a charity football match ... Read More »

Deniz Naki: A political footballer in fear of his life

Deniz Naki has gone from one of Germany's most promising footballers to hiding in a safe house after an attempt on his life. Naki's political views have long had a big impact on his career. But how did it come to this? A little less than a decade ago, Deniz Naki was part of a German success story, named in the "team of the tournament" as the country picked up a seventh European Under-19 Championship. Naki lifted the trophy with the likes of Sven Bender, Lars Bender, Ömer Toprak and plenty of others still playing at the top level. But at the start of 2018, Naki is now at the center of a story of a very different kind. The 28-year-old with German-Kurdish roots was shot at while driving down the A4 motorway near his home town of Düren, in the west of Germany, on Monday. He is reportedly now in a "safe place" receiving police protection following the apparent assasination attempt, which is being investigated as attempted murder. He told German media how he ducked before pulling over to the hard shoulder and surviving unharmed before claiming that the attack was of a political nature. "I think that this is about a political issue," Naki told Spiegel magazine's online platform Bento. "I am a continual target in Turkey because I make pro-Kurdish statements." While it was initially reported by numerous sources that Naki was suggesting the Turkish secret service were involved in the shooting, his lawyer told DW's Gezal Acer on Tuesday that this was false and the footballer "thought an ultra-nationalist Turkish group in Germany could be behind it." Even before the latest incident, controversy has never been far from the surface of the forward's career, particularly in recent years. The former St. Pauli player has been a vocal critic of the Turkish government's treatment of the country's Kurdish ethnic group and a supporter of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) - who stand for Kurdish nationalism but are considered a terrorist organization by the European Union. Just last year, after initially being found not guilty less than a year earlier, he was handed an 18 month suspended jail sentence for promoting "terror propaganda" for the PKK on social media channels. Naki tweeted his opinion about a Turkish military offensive against the PKK and a curfew was imposed in seven cities in southeast Anatolia, in the west of Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's treatment of dissidents has been condemned in many quarters but DW's Acer says Naki's case is unique. "Until now it had often been journalists or academics or writers who felt threatened, but we haven't heard of this happening with any other athletes," she said. "So we can't say concretely that athletes or sports figures are feeling under threat or in danger." Whether the threat is from government agencies or otherwise, Naki's political beliefs, and the consequences of those beliefs, have had a significant impact on his career. A tally of eight goals in 12 games this season shows at least some of the ability that shone so brightly as a teenager remains, despite the lowly level at which he now plays. After that European Championship win and a couple of caps for the German under-21 side alongside the likes of Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, Naki left Bayer Leverkusen for St. Pauli, a famously left wing club based in Hamburg. He was, and remains, a popular figure at the club but his stint is probably best remembered for his throat-slitting gesture during St Pauli's 2-0 win over Hansa Rostock in 2009. Clashes between the two had long been dangerously charged, with the right wing elements of Rostock's fan base opposed to the ideology espoused by St. Pauli, and the gesture was considered to incite violence. Naki received a three match ban for that, nine matches less than he'd eventually get for his social media support of the PKK, and, after a brief spell at Paderborn, he moved to Turkey, the country to which he'd pledged his national team allegiance after a pair of caps for Germany's under-21s — though he's yet to win a cap. Soon after his move to Genclerbirligi, Naki was the victim of an attack, the reason for which was thought to be his Kurdish ethnicity. "They were swearing and asking: 'Are you that dirty Kurd?'" Naki told the BBC after the 2014 attack. "Then they said: 'Damn your Kobane, damn your Sinjar'. I tried to calm them down. But suddenly one of them punched me in the eye. Trying to defend myself, I punched one of them back and started running away." He left the country a few days after, citing the possibility of further attacks as the reason for his departure. "There is no tolerance. I would only go back because I love my country, I love my hometown. That's it. I will carry on with my career in Germany," he said at the time. But it was a stone's throw from his hometown of Düren that his car windscreen was struck by a bullet. “I always knew that something like this could happen, but I would never have thought it could happen in Germany,” he told German newspaper Die Welt on Monday. Less than 48 hours after a gunman made him fear for his life, Naki's future — both sporting and otherwise — is unclear, much like his assailant. What has become increasingly obvious is that he is a sportsman doesn't seem prepared to separate his sport and his politics. The cost of that could have been, and still might be, enormous.

Deniz Naki has gone from one of Germany’s most promising footballers to hiding in a safe house after an attempt on his life. Naki’s political views have long had a big impact on his career. But how did it come to this? A little less than a decade ago, Deniz Naki was part of a German success story, named in ... Read More »

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