20 Midfielder Bayer Leverkusen Turkey
2014 has been...
Preparation for greatness.
Hakan Çalhanoğlu, a second generation German Turk made his Bundesliga 2 debut for Karlsruhrer in a 2-1 victory over Erzgebirge Aue in February 2012. The Mannheim born midfielder certainly had a day to remember with his 80 minutes including assists for both of KSC’s goals. The midfielder would retain his place for the remainder of the season as his club battled - unsuccessfully - against relegation.
By the summer of 2012, several clubs further up the league expressed an interest in signing Çalhanoğlu, but a £2.2m move to Hamburger SV was agreed in August 2012 which would see the youngster remain at the Wildparkstadion on loan for a further year. The opportunity to retain the midfielder was excellent news for KSC and coach Markus Kauczinski was only too happy to include his golden boy in the first team for much of the 2012/13 season. Able to play weekly, Çalhanoğlu quickly got to grips with the third division and grew in stature each week as his side cantered to promotion. Seventeen goals and twelve assists from Çalhanoğlu provided the momentum to move forward with the midfielder also beginning to catch the eye at junior international level for Turkey.
With his loan complete and a memorable season behind him, Çalhanoğlu finally made for the Bundesliga having shown exceptional form at a lower level, but would he be able to cut it in a higher division?
In August 2013, Hamburg coach Thorsten Fink included the teenage goal machine in the Bundesliga opener at Schalke. Deployed as forward, Çalhanoğlu performed well enough without scoring in an entertaining draw. A bad of run results and the departure of Fink would follow, but amidst the gloom was a standout performance against Eintracht Braunschweig and the first of those trademark free kicks from the youngster.
Moved into midfield by Bert van Marwijk and retained there by Mirko Slomka, Çalhanoğlu began rolling out his free kick routine on an almost weekly basis. Each time the ball seemed to be that little further back, with Çalhanoğlu - almost like a high jumper stepping up to his mark – meeting the challenge. By the time Borussia Dortmund had arrived at the Imtech Arena in February this year, Çalhanoğlu was taking direct shots at goal from the halfway line. And while Roma Weidenfeller was given clear sight, and knew exactly what was coming, he was unable to stop an absolute exocet skimming past him to give Die Rothosen a memorable 3-0 victory over Jürgen Klopp’s side.
Çalhanoğlu would finish the season with eleven Bundesliga goals and four assists, but would rarely find himself on the winning side as Hamburg continued their almost never ending arch from crisis to crisis. In July, somewhat inevitably, Çalhanoğlu was off, with Bayer Leverkusen handing over a fee in advance of £13m for the 20 year old midfielder.
So far this season, Çalhanoğlu has, despite the odd indifferent game, started to find his range once more. We haven’t had quite so many torpedo like free kicks just yet, but there’s a lot more to this kid’s game then just set pieces and he’s learning quickly. With his club well placed for this season’s Bundesliga top four, Çalhanoğlu can now count on Champions League experience and has also cemented a place at full international level. He’s making an impact at all levels and we don’t expect that to stop any time soon.
If there’s a blueprint marked ‘meteoric rise’ then this is exactly what it looks like. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe that Çalhanoğlu is not yet 21 - he plays with such maturity and skill you could quite easily imagine that he’d been at the very top for a decade. Two years ago he was ripping up the Bundesliga 3, last season he made his mark on the German top flight and found a taste for hurting the big guns. This year, he’s delivering at Champions League level and there is clearly a lot, lot more to come.
If you’ve not seen that much of Çalhanoğlu, please don’t think he is all about the free kicks. He’s scored more than Paul Pogba this year and created more chances for others than Julian Draxler. On average, he has a shot at goal every 37 minutes and creates a goal scoring opportunity every 35. To put those numbers into context; Raheem Sterling – who enjoyed a magnificent year - averaged a shot every 63 minutes for Liverpool and created a chance every 40.
In short, it has been a magnificent year for Çalhanoğlu, even if he is yet to win a trophy of any note. He has the perfect platform at Leverkusen to take his game to another level and his ability to cause panic in defensive ranks should not be underestimated. Few players in world football can hit a ball as sweetly.
If there’s any area that Çalhanoğlu might need to work on, it’s his all-round passing game. He covers the pitch well, gets stuck into tackles when need be, but there might just be a few too many easy balls being misplaced and that needs to be sharpened. It will come though, he’s developed at such a rate that we genuinely can’t see any blemishes standing out for too long. The stuff that you can’t teach just comes naturally too, which bodes very well for the future.
For the next twelve months it is all about refinement, but we really can’t be too picky, Çalhanoğlu is still only 20 - something we had to remind ourselves of regularly. Taking his age into account, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that we might be looking at a genuine world star here; a player that can hurt any side – ANY side. To suggest that he has the potential to be the greatest his country has ever produced may sound ambitious, but it is not without justification. Keep watching.
"Quite possibly the breakout player of the year. Prodigious set piece taker, creativity to spare and a likable personality - Leverkusen have a star in the making on their books." - Cris Nyari
"No-one has scored more direct free-kicks across Europe's big five leagues in 2014 than Hakan Çalhanoğlu (5)." - OptaJoe
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