The president of Basaksehir Istanbul sought to foster a welcoming atmosphere on Tuesday before welcoming Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League this week amid strains between Ankara and Paris by insisting the French club were “a friend”.
The Turkish champions will face last year’s runners up on Wednesday as tensions escalate between Turkey and France over French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
In an interview with state news agency Anadolu, Basaksehir president Goksel Gumusdag, who has close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tried to prevent the diplomatic crisis spilling over to the pitch praising PSG and its Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
“Paris Saint-Germain are a friendly club. All the management, especially Mr Nasser are our friends,” Gumusdag said.
“We’re very happy to host the world-class club.”
The reference to PSG’S Qatari ownership is not trivial.
Erdogan enjoys excellent relations with Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who is close to Khelaifi.
The implication was that the Turkish authorities will likely try to ensure the match goes smoothly.
The game, starting at 1755 GMT, will be played behind closed doors at Istanbul’s Fatih Terim stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Basaksehir, who are only six years old, enjoyed a swift rise before they were crowned Turkish champions for the first time last summer.
They are facing PSG, Manchester United and RB Leipzig in the group stage on their debut appearance in the top-tier competition.
“As you can see, we had an easy draw!” Gumusdag joked.
Known for their budgetary discipline and attacking play, the club are accused of enjoying too close a relationship with Erdogan, who is wary of the supporters of the three Istanbul giants, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas. Ultras from those clubs played a key role in the “Gezi Park” anti-government protests in 2013.