Football in Turkey from the outside wasn’t as attractive as it was from the inside, almost two decades ago. The nation struggled to qualify for the World Cup in the 20th century, owing to multiple reasons with the reason of lack of development and publicity of the game being the primary reason. But the first World Cup of the 21st century couldn’t have been any better for the Milli Takım, as the men in red sprang a surprise by managing to finish the World Cup at the 3rd place, their highest ever finish until now. And as the popularity of the game in the Middle East and in Turkey itself grows, the game is now the most followed game in the country.
Turkey was not considered an attractive place to play the game, but as time fleets past and as the game acquires a more global look, an exactly opposite facet is coming to the fore. The likes of Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, Demba Ba, Felipe Melo and Blerim Dzemaili are some of the well known players who’re currently plying their trade in Turkish clubs. Otherwise, the amount of emerging local Turkish players is substantial, if not gargantuan. Moreover, not only in Turkey itself but full blooded Turkish players are now increasingly starting to come to terms with football in other parts of Europe too.
Nuri Sahin, the former Real Madrid midfielder, may not have lived up to the hype that surrounded him during his stint at the Bernabeu and even more so during the early days of his career at Borussia Dortmund, but the 26 year old is one of the best Turkish players around. He’s still got some bit of zip about him and is the kind of player who is impressive despite of not playing much for the men in yellow this season.
Atletico Madrid’s Arda Turan was an indispensable part of their triumphant La Liga winning season last year. Still 28, Arda is a hard working winger or even a attacking midfield player who has represented Turkey at all levels ranging from the U16 to the senior level where he has appeared 79 times.
Other experienced Turkish stars include Feyenoord’s Colin Kazim Richards and Galatasaray’s Umut Bulut. The delight for Turkish fans wasn’t over after finishing 3rd 13 years ago but, quite a bit of it is still waiting to explode, or erupt in the coming years.
The nation, especially the young generation coming in, is blessed with a treasury of exciting players who’re destined to feature for the national side in the coming years. The best of them are yet to be unleashed completely but once they get going for the national side, Turkish fans would have a lot to speak for when coming up against the likes of Germany and Netherlands.
A player who has attracted attention from some of Europe’s elites is Bursaspor right back Ozan Tufan. The 20 year old is reportedly on the radar of clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea and is well capable of functioning as a right winger and as a defensive midfielder too. Thus far, he has enjoyed a very good season for Senol Gunes’ side and has assisted six times and has scored thrice. Tufan is a strong tackler and a sound passer and averages 2.2 tackles per game and supplies an average of 1.2 key passes per game. A product of the Buraspor youth academy, Tufan has appeared 6 times for the senior Turkish sides, apart from representing his nation at the U17, U18 and U19 levels. And by the looks of it, things are certainly looking up for the young man.
Another Turkish youngsters who’s been making waves in European football recently is Besiktas’ Gokhan Tore. The 23 year old,who has formerly played for Chelsea too, ripped Liverpool apart during Besiktas’ triumph over the Reds in the Europa League recently. Tore is an incisive dribbler, capable of shredding defenses on his will with the help of his quick feet and accurate vision. He may be diminutive in height, but isn’t a customer to be underestimated. Tore can play down the middle and out wide in the midfield and has even got a knack for delivering accurate set pieces too. So far in the season, Tore has scored 8 times, and has assisted 7 times too.
17 year old Enes Unal is another Bursaspor youngster who is being tipped to achieve bigger things in the years ahead of him. The striker hasn’t featured much for Bursaspor, except for some substitute appearances and games in the Turkiye Kupal Cup but considering the amount of appearances he’s made, it’s never easy. At the mere age of 17, Unal has played 9 games for the Bursaspor U21 side, scoring thrice. Unal is a typical goal poacher who possesses goal scoring instincts and a keen eye for goal. And after all he’s achieved at such a tender age, young Enes Unal has got a glittering future ahead of him.
Two central defenders who have got what it takes to form the pivot of the future Turkish defense are Bayer Leverkusen’s Omer Toprak and Schalke’s Kaan Ayhan . Omer Toprak is considered to be one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga and is one of the most consistent ones too. The 25 year old averages 2.4 tackles per game and makes 5.3 clearances too, which is very good for any central defender. The former Freiburg man although, has played for Germany at junior levels but, has more recently begun to feature regularly for the senior Turkish side. When it comes to Schalke’s 20 year old defender Kaan Ayhan, the young defender is increasingly becoming a key part of the Schalke defense, along with the likes of Roman Neustadter and Joel Matip.
Although, injuries have thwarted his overall progress but inspite of that, Ayhan has been doing very well for the Veltins Arena based side. Ayhan has appeared 10 times for the senior Schalke side and being a ball playing defender who is always looking to move the ball out of the defense, has a racked up a lot of assists at the junior levels for Schalke. Even he, much like Toprak has appeared for Germany at the junior levels, but has now begun to move towards representing Turkey.
But, two of the best starlets currently coming through the ranks at their respective clubs are Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Fenerbahce’s Salih Ucan, who is out on loan at Italian giants AS Roma.
Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu is the focal point of everything the Bay Arena based German side do. And being a part of Leverkusen’s talented bandwagon, which consists of the likes of Karim Bellarabi, Josip Drmic and the likes, Calhanoglu is developing steadily and never leaves anything found wanting in his performances. Leverkusen fans have been left dazzled by the youngsters’ stellar showings and rightly so, Calhanoglu never fails to impress. The 21 year old is as versatile as one can get. He can play almost anywhere in the midfield, but primarily, flourishes as an attacking midfielder. He has scored 8 times and has assisted his team mates 6 times too. More so, Calhanoglu has already represented Turkey’s senior side 5 times, that being at quite a young age.
Salih Ucan may not have played more than once for Roma, but managed to impress in that single game he played, assisting on his Roma debut. He is mainly a central midfielder, who can even function slightly up front, just behind the striker. Salih Ucan is not devoid of even a bit of technique in his play. He’s good and comfortable on the ball and is a very clever brainy character. He’s a snappy passer and distributes passes with ease.
Gradually, Turkish football is acquiring the form of something which would’ve unfathomable 20 years ago from today. The talents that they possess in their repertoire, is like ice cream stored in a freezer and may not be as well known as those of Germany or Netherlands but is rather substantial. And the phrase, ‘Under the Radar’ seems to fit in inch perfectly. Their isolation from the media, as compared to the English talents is quite low and that is helping them develop steadily and impressively. The bottleneck age, which is well prevalent in English talents, in terms of development of players, is almost negligible for Turkish players. And as a far as the future of Turkish football goes, things are can only improve from here on.