Ilkay Gundogan has expressed his regret over Mesut Ozil's retirement from the Germany national team, while suggesting that racist attitudes contributed to his decision.
Gundogan and Ozil, who are of Turkish descent, were criticised in some sectors for visiting Turkey president Recep Erdogan in the build-up to the World Cup.
Germany went on to crash out of the tournament in the first round for the first time since 1938, with Ozil again coming under the microscope for his performances in Russia.
The Arsenal star subsequently withdrew from international football , sparking a fierce war of words with certain members of the Germany hierarchy.
And Gundogan believes he and Ozil were singled out because of their ethnic backgrounds.
"Was the affair racially motivated? You're telling me! Is it not racism when a German politician writes on Facebook: 'The German national football team: 25 Germans and two goat f***ers?'" the Manchester City player fired to Funke Sport .
"That's something you have to call racism. Nevertheless, that does not mean that all people in Germany are racists - not at all. Almost all my life I have had good experiences in Germany. I want to say that very clearly here. But there are people who have politically used the resulting photo for themselves. And in this context, the line to racism was partially crossed."
Gundogan also denied that those of foreign descent in the Germany squad formed their own 'Kanake' - a derogatory term for Turks in Germany that has been reclaimed by some of that community - clique, and that in Russia there was one single team.
"Of course there were some jokes here and there about certain Instagram postings. But that is quite normal, that you get up here and there a bit in a positive way," he added.
"But that was just always meant to be fun and definitely had nothing to do with racism! At the 2014 World Cup, it was 'Die Mannschaft' everywhere with 23 very best buddies and now, after a disappointing 2018 World Cup, there is talk of fractured groupings, though they were largely the same players and characters. This is now exaggerated from the outside!
"In sporting terms, I think Mesut's resignation is a pity. He did a lot for German football. It's a loss for the team. Mesut has also done a lot for me personally. He was one of the reasons why I wanted to play for Germany.
"He has paved the way for me. So I would have wished that he would get a better, deserved goodbye. However, one has to say that it was Mesut's decision to go that way - with all the consequences. I would have done it differently - because I'm different from the personality.
"At the time I wanted to comment on the topic immediately and not let it sit on me. That's why my idea was to seek an exchange with our Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier."