by Tom Lees - 5th January 2016
With the 2016 European Championships now just a few months away, here at FanFormation, we will be taking a close look at each Nation competing and how they fare once the big event in France kicks off. As part of our pre-tournament preview, we will be going through each Country and highlighting three of the youngsters, on the fringes of selection, who will be hoping to make their Nations final squad.
Today our focus will be on Turkey, who have been drawn in Group D alongside Spain, Croatia and the Czech Republic.
As we approach the tournament, coach Fatih Terim already has a fairly youthful looking Turkish squad in front of him, with Emre Tasdemir and Yunus Malli both expected to feature, as well as the outstanding midfield duo of Ozan Tufan and Hakan Calhanoglu. Calhanoglu in particular has the potential to have a huge tournament for the Turks, and they’ll rely on his talents if they are to go far. Apart from these more established names, who are some of the fringe players hoping for a big end to their seasons and potential selection.
A tall, technical and powerful midfield presence, Okay Yokuslu has the look of a player who could move seamlessly into International football. A player who glides effortlessly over the pitch, Okay is just as effective on the edge of his own area breaking up play as he is at the other end of the field scoring with long range strikes. With a wide range of passes, from short passes through gaps in the back line, to sweeping long passes in order to switch play, Okay is a young midfielder who could grace any level of football.
Beginning his career with Altay in the Turkish 1st division, Okay would go on to sign for Kayserispor in the Turkish Süper Lig in the summer of 2011. A regular in the Kayserispor team, albeit mostly used as a substitute in the Süper Lig, Okay would show his talent with some good performances, these performances led to international recognition and the midfielder was selected as part of Turkeys Under 20 squad for the 2013 World Cup. During the tournament Okay made a name for himself with a 25-yard chip over a stranded Australian goalkeeper to help Turkey qualify for the last 16 of the tournament.
At the end of the following season, his club side Kayserispor were relegated to the Turkish 1st division, although this enabled young Okay to establish himself as a first team regular, no longer making his game from the substitutes bench. The season was a huge success for the youngster as his performances led to not only promotion back to the Süper Lig, but the 1st Division title with it. At the end of this successful season for Okay Yokuslu, it was announced that Kayserispor had reached an agreement with fellow Süper Lig side Trabzonspor for his permanent transfer, and the youngster has since then been turning in high quality performances for his new club at a higher level. This in turn led to his first International call up for the senior squad in November 2015, making his debut as a late substitute in the 0-0 friendly draw with Greece.
Although very short on International experience, I get the feeling that Okay Yokuslu will be catching that flight to France in the summer, all he has to do is keep doing what he’s been doing so well.
Kaan Ayhan should be playing for Turkey, he should have a number of caps under his belt already, he has all the talent to be one of the best Turkish players of his generation, but so far his only International experience has come at Under 21 level. Ayhan is a product of the Schalke youth system, a system that has brought through some truly exceptional talents, and the young Turkish-German is seen as one of the brighter lights of recent years. With composure on the ball, a range of passing and an expertise from dead ball situations he possesses some fine skills that fit nicely with his good reading of the game.
However, he has suffered from being part of a side that has so many young stars at their disposal, his game experience has been limited at times, and his career has stagnated because of it. Trying to build a career by playing every odd game is a very difficult feat, and because of his versatility Ayhan would not even be able to establish himself in a set position.
More commonly used as a centre back, Ayhan is also very efficient as a full back or midfielder, a defensive utility player that could be seen as a blessing for management but a curse for the individual, Phil Neville fell victim to that same curse for much of his career. Ironically though it is this ability that could propel Kaan Ayhan into the Turkish European Championship squad, with limited spaces a utility player is worth his weight in gold.
But the same problem presented itself, you cannot be considered for tournament football if you are not playing club football regularly, recent events however, may correct this. While preparing to write this article about Turkey, I was considering the three players to highlight and Kaan Ayhan was always in the forefront of my mind, and I kept telling myself “has to get a loan move, needs to play games”, and behold once the transfer window opened in Germany a loan move took place. Schalke reached an agreement with Eintracht Frankfurt for his loan transfer, a permanent fee had been muted but the price is rumoured to be too high. This is the chance Kaan Ayhan needs, play well for Frankfurt and he’ll go to the Euros. He has the talent, he has the time, now he has the chance to prove how good he is.
Young Enes Ünal is the wonder kid of Turkish football, a player who has burst onto the scene at a young age and could be the wildcard selection in Fatih Terims final squad. Ünal will have just turned 19 when the final Turkish squad is announced, and many will say he is far too young and far too inexperienced to be considered, but the young striker has been performing wonders at every level he has been presented, so why not give him a chance.
His record for the Turkish youth teams is frightening, 8 goals in 9 for the Under 17’s, 6 in 6 for the Under 19’s, promoted to the Under 21 side when he was just 16, scoring 2 goals in 9 appearances (7 of those as a substitute). Ünal also became the youngest ever goal scorer in the Turkish Süper Lig in August 2013, scoring for Bursaspor aged 16, the club with which he graduated through the youth system.
Two months before his 18th birthday, Enes Ünal was even given his senior International debut for Turkey, in a friendly victory against Luxembourg, although this is his only cap to date. This early blooding into the National team highlights how he is thought of by the Turkish management, they know he is their big hope for the future and the early exposure would have done wonders for the player’s confidence.
Although for the young International sides his scoring record suggests he is an out and finisher, at club level Ünal tends to drop off the front, picking up the ball and running at defenders looking to link up play. This has tempered his goal scoring ratio in domestic football, but shows he has a lot more to his game than just a goal getter. After all he is still young and finding his way in football, adding different skills to his palette can only be a good thing for his career progression.
In the summer of 2015, Manchester City paid a reported fee of $2 million for the teenager, making Ünal the Citizens first signing of that summer, he would join his new club on their pre-season tour to Australia before agreeing a two-year loan deal to Belgian side Genk. Ünal has been featuring regularly for Genk, although mainly as a substitute, but at least he is getting exposure to first team football which was not going to be the case at the Etihad. A strong end to the Belgian season for Ünal could really see his name thrown into the mix for tournament selection, he may need to turn a few more heads and convince people he’s worthy of the chance, but he could really by a wildcard selection to get excited about in France.
OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE
In these Euro 2016 Young Hopefuls reviews I will only be focussing on three players for each nation, but there are a handful of other young Turkish talents that will be hoping to make it to France in the Summer.
Salih Ucan of AS Roma is a tremendously gifted young midfielder, although his lack of playing time at the Italian giants could ultimately cost him his place. Kerim Frei (once of Fulham fame) has been in great form for Besiktas as of late and will be disappointed if his name isn’t involved in the final squad selection. Then we also have a pair of talented young centre backs in Ahmet Calik and Caglar Söyüncü, of Genclerbirligi and Altinordu respectively, who will be in the shake-up, although personally I feel only one will make the final cut.
So that was my look into the youngsters hoping to make it into the European Championship finals for Turkey, who are you looking forward to seeing represent the Crescent-Stars in 2016? How do you think Turkey will do in the tournament? They kick off their campaign on the 12th June against Croatia, a game both sides will be desperate to win.