Borussia Dortmund have completed the signing of Germany midfielder Felix Nmecha on a long-term deal until 2028 despite pushback from their own fan base.
"Borussia Dortmund is a wonderful club that I have followed since my childhood," Nmecha told the club's official website after making the move from Wolfsburg. "I'm delighted that I am a part of it now and that I can help the team achieve its objectives in the Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League. I hope the fans will give me the chance to get to know me."
The 22-year-old, joined Wolfsburg from Manchester City in 2021 and has since made 50 appearances for the Wolves, scoring three goals, setting up six more and attracting the attention of Dortmund, who see him as a potential replacement for Jude Bellingham.
But Nmecha also made headlines off the pitch for a series of homophobic and transphobic social media posts, attitudes which several Dortmund fan groups consider incompatible with their club.
In February, Nmecha shared an Instagram video posted by the American right-wing extremist Matt Walsh, in which the self-styled "theocratic fascist" mocked the father of a transgender child.
And in June, coinciding with the start of LGBTQ Pride Month, he shared an image from a fundamentalist Christian Instagram account in which the concept of "Pride" was equated with the devil.
As a result, some supporters urged their club to "stand by your values" and forcing chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke to defend Nmecha amid the criticism.
"He's just a normal lad, a normal young footballer," Watzke told the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) this week.
"He's not the sort of lad who would cause problems in the dressing room with his attitude or behavior."
'BVB: stand by your values!'
"The image of Felix Nmecha as revealed by his social media activities does not, in our eyes, match the values of Borussia Dortmund," read a statement from the anti-discrimination initiative ballspiel.vereint! whose members also posed outside the club's Westfalenstadion with a banner reading: "BVB: stand by your values!"
Each season, Borussia Dortmund dedicate a home game to anti-discrimination causes, and also help to organize and fund educational trips to former Nazi concentration camps for young football fans.
At its annual members' meeting in November 2022, Borussia Dortmund officially unveiled a "code of basic values" in which the club and its 175,000 members state: "We consider ourselves to be a diverse, inclusive community, a home for all Borussen regardless of age, appearance, gender, sexual identity or orientation, culture, religion, skin color, nationality or social background … The BVB family stands for an honest and fair co-existence free of discrimination."
ballspiel.vereint! said they expect the code of basic values to apply not only to club members, but to club employees, too, including the players, and demanded that Dortmund distance themselves from a move for Nmecha. "Signing a player who openly stands by his anti-queer views would contradict the values of Borussia Dortmund and undermine the club's anti-discrimination work of recent years, damaging its credibility."
According to local Dortmund newspaprer WAZ, BVB CEO Watzke and club president Reinhold Lunow have held talks with Nmecha regarding his controversial views. According to the SZ, these talks involved making it clear to him that he shouldn't use his position in the team or in the club for any sort of "missionizing" work.
LGBT fan group Rainbow Borussen, however, published a statement in which they questioned whether the club was prepared to "tolerate intolerance," saying:
"Borussia Dortmund's board is sending the signal that if a homophobic player is good enough, then that takes priority over the interests of players who feel unable to come out. Should this transfer ultimately go through, the damage to queer acceptance in football will be immense."
Addressing CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, sporting director Sebastian Kehl and head coach Edin Terzic, they asked: "Would you prefer to protect players who have not come out, or give homophobia a boost?"
What has Felix Nmecha said?
Nmecha makes no secret of his strong Christian beliefs. Asked in an interview with RND in April, a month after making his international debut for Germany, whether he would wear a rainbow armband, he responded:
"I've thought about this a lot. I think, in this situation, I would just do one thing: I would pray and ask what God wants me to do. That's an important decision for me."
Last week, he again took to Instagram to post an image of himself alongside VfB Stuttgart's Josha Vagnoman, the latter wearing a jersey featuring a rainbow ring.
"In my footballing journey so far I've met people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and beliefs," he wrote. "It's important that I make it clear that I genuinely love all people and don't discriminate against anyone … God's love is for everyone."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 27, 2023 and updated on June 30, 2023 and July 4, 2023 to reflect the completion of the transfer.
Edited by: Matt Pearson