21 Midfielder Bayer Leverkusen Turkey
You know, Hakan Çalhanoğlu. Yeah, the free kick kid.
Born in Germany, Çalhanoğlu played his youth football for various teams in Mannheim before graduating from the youth teams of Karlsruher into first team football. He eventually stepped up to Hamburger SV and it was there that he really began to make his name.
He made a big money move to Bayer Leverkusen in July 2014 and immediately established himself as a first team regular. The expectations on the 21-year-old Turkish international are the same as a much older player. He’s earned that and now he needs to live up to it.
2015 has been…
Solid but unspectacular. Çalhanoğlu has featured in all of Leverkusen’s Bundesliga matches this season, starting 13 of 16 so far, and has also started every Champions League game Leverkusen have played since he joined them last summer. There’s been no question of bedding him in; they’re looking to get the most from their investment right away.
Çalhanoğlu has good technique and plenty of willingness to work but lacks composure and execution too often. At his best, he’s every bit the player Leverkusen thought they were getting. Playing across their frequently fluid second line of attack he’s always on the move, hunting for space, and he likes to get into the channels and link play, and he does it well.
He likes to travel with the ball and has excellent close control at his feet, and he moves it along at pace. Leverkusen press high, giving him plenty of possession, but his ambition on the ball isn’t always matched by his ability to achieve what he’s picturing. His mid-range passing is good but, again, sometimes over-ambitious. When he gets it right, he can be exciting to watch. His vision is fantastic and he’s a very smart player indeed.
But for all the famed technique, which he does have, he’s not all that polished. Of course, he’s already known around the world as a set piece specialist. His ambition from free kicks is outrageous: he’ll happily crack one from 40 yards or a silly angle, usually with good effect.
His delivery from crossed free kicks and corners is, frustratingly, less good. Again, when they’re good they’re great, but his delivery from open play is actually much better than his corners, for example.
Leverkusen finished third in their Champions League group and Çalhanoğlu will be key to their prospects in the Europa League, where they face Sporting Clube de Portugal in the Round of 32 in the new year.
In terms of improvements the key word for Çalhanoğlu is consistency: consistency of set piece delivery to earn his specialist tag, consistency of impact on big games and general consistency in terms of production around the opposition goal. Leverkusen have some impressive firepower at their disposal and Çalhanoğlu is a big part of that, but he must become more reliable as he matures.
Çalhanoğlu will test his ability against Spain, Czech Republic and Croatia as one of Turkey’s key players at EURO 2016. He’s played for his country at all youth levels and made his senior debut two years ago. He’s since reached 13 caps, scoring four times. A good showing in France would go a long way to removing any doubt as to his long-term potential.
C+ High expectations with a modest return. A talented player with much to prove
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