11 Best Turkish Players Of All Time (Ranked) | OneFootball

11 Best Turkish Players Of All Time (Ranked) | OneFootball

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·31 July 2023

11 Best Turkish Players Of All Time (Ranked)

Article image:11 Best Turkish Players Of All Time (Ranked)
  • Turkey's football reputation has seen a significant boost in recent years due to impressive performances at major tournaments and European club successes.
  • Players like Emre Belözoğlu, Tuncay Şanlı, and Nuri Şahin have made names for themselves in top European leagues, but there's strong competition for Arda Güler to become Turkey's next great player.
  • A list of Turkish players' careers highlights those who have represented Turkey throughout their careers and have not chosen to play for other nations.



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The signing of Arda Güler by Real Madrid has brought attention to Turkey for the first time in what feels like an eternity.

Once considered the international whipping boys, Turkey held an embarrassing position on the world stage. Since the turn of the century, it has been a different story. The national side's impressive performances at Euro 2000 (QF) and 2002 World Cup (3rd), and Galatasaray's UEFA Cup victory (against Arsenal) in 99/2000 and Super Cup win (vs Real Madrid) in 2000/01 seasons helped boost the country's position.

Güler happens to be the latest player to reap the rewards. The teenager has the potential to be a Turkish great. But who stands in his way to claim such an accolade?

The list looks at a player's entire career, not just the time spent in the top 4 leagues; Premier League; La Liga;Serie A; Bundesliga. Players of Turkish descent that have opted to play for other nations have been omitted from the list.

11 Emre Belözoğlu

Emre Belözoğlu was another Galatasaray youth product after being picked up from Zeytinburnu Spor.

Similarly to Hakan Şükür and Tugay Kerimoğlu, Emre's performances from 1999-2001 got heads turning. At the end of the 2000/01 season, Inter signed the player on a free transfer.

Emre spent four seasons in Milan, winning an Italian Cup. The diminutive midfielder then joined Newcastle, where he spent three seasons.

Emre was a dead-ball specialist and playmaker, but his fiery temper constantly got him into trouble. According to Transfermarkt, he received a whopping 173 yellow cards and 13 red cards, 7 of which were straight reds.

10 Tuncay Şanlı

Celebrated in Turkiye, Tuncay Şanlı was a bit of a journeyman footballer in Europe's elite leagues.

He played for Middlesborough, Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers and Wolfsburg. The Turkish winger was nicknamed "Cesur Yürek" - meaning "Brave Heart" - because of his never say die attitude and effort during matches.

Even Galatasaray fans respected the player despite his legendary status for rivals Fenerbahce.

9 Nuri Şahin

A player with immense talent but constant injuries, Nuri Şahin never reached the heights expected despite playing for some of the biggest clubs in football.

According to the Step to Health website, a player will play roughly 70 games during a season. However, once the player reaches a certain age, that number reduces drastically due to the number of games, the importance placed on competitions, and a player's fitness.

Consequently, a career spanning two decades would mean a player could play between 800-1000 games for club and country. Şahin played 480 competitive games in his career for club and country, with TransferMarkt recording that he scored 40 goals and provided 72 assists.

Şahin's best performances came at Borussia Dortmund, where he won the Bundesliga in the 2010/11 season. The following season, he won the La Liga title with Real Madrid. Unfortunately for the German-born Turkish midfielder, he only made four appearances for Los Blancos.

The season after wasn't much different. Şahin played seven games during a pricey loan spell at Liverpool. Eventually, the player called it a day at the end of 2021, aged 33.

8 Yıldıray Baştürk

In footballing terms, Yıldıray Baştürk was somewhat of a late bloomer. Another one of Turkey's German-born talents, he went under the radar for a long time.

It all changed after his performances for Bayer Leverkusen during the 2001/02 season. Baştürk played a pivotal role in Leverkusen's run to the Champions League final - remembered for Zinedine Zidane's spectacular volley.

The 5ft 6' midfielder took his form into the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, where he started every game on the way to a 3rd-placed finish.

Although he never won a title - only player on the list to have such an unfortunate feat - he was still highly talented among his generation of players.

7 Hakan Çalhanoğlu

Hakan Çalhanoğlu is arguably Turkiye's best active player, and rightfully so.

Another one of the German-born stars, he captains the national side and plays a vital role in the Inter Milan midfield. Çalhanoğlu almost became the first Turk to win the Champions League last season, when Inter finished as runners-up to Manchester City. It would have been even more special for the 29-year-old to achieve such a feat in Istanbul, where the final was held.

His range of passing and outrageous strikes from a distance have been instrumental to his rise in the game. In other words, he only scores bangers.

6 Hamit Altıntop

Altıntop, which translates into English as "Golden Ball" is one of two brothers that played for Turkiye. Hamit Altıntop (and his younger brother Halil) was another player of Turkish descent to be born in Germany. Altıntop spent the majority of his career in Germany.

The elder Altıntop brother spent four seasons playing for his hometown club Schalke 04, before doing what all good players in Germany seem to do, signing for Bayern Munich. After spending a year at Bayern, Altıntop signed for Real Madrid. Unsurprisingly, the Turkish midfielder got very little playing time during the 2012/13 season with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra, Mesut Özil, Kaka, Karim Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo making up the bulk of the team.

5 Rüştü Reçber

In the early 2000s, Rüştü Reçber was one of the most sought-after keepers in the game. He had just had a marvellous World Cup in 2002 - Turkey finished 3rd - and his contract had ended.

The Turkish keeper joined Barcelona, rejecting both Arsenal and Manchester United. Unfortunately for the Turkish shot-stopper, La Liga had a non-European quota for domestic competitions. The 3+1 rule meant that only three non-EU players could be on the pitch at any time, with a max of four in the squad.

During an interview for Futbol Arena, Rüştü spoke of a conversation with then-manager Frank Rijkaard. Rijkaard told the keeper that he would only play in European competitions because Ronaldinho, Raphael Marquez, and Javier Saviola would be in the team.

Although Rüştü's time at Barcelona lasted just one mediocre season, he is the country's greatest goalkeeper of all time. Rüştü played a record 120 games for his country and conceded less than a goal a game during his club career.

4 Hakan Şükür

The greatest goalscorer in Turkish football, Hakan Şükür scored an impressive 326 goals and provided 124 assists in 713 games in his domestic career (Transfermarkt).

During Galatasaray's run to UEFA Cup glory in 2000. The lanky striker scored four times in the Champions League group stages, which helped the Turkish side to finish third. This meant Galatasaray dropped into the UEFA Cup, where Şükür scored another six goals. His strike in the semi-final second leg against Leeds United is ranked as one of his greatest.

After the completion of the season, Şükür got his big move to Inter Milan, where he scored a few goals but never got a regular start. The Turkish striker was an understudy for Christian Vieri and the Brazilian Ronaldo. From Inter, Şükür went on loan to Parma before getting a transfer to Blackburn Rovers.

His time in the Premier League didn't last long. As reported by the Lancashire Telegraph at the time, Şükür wanted to return to Turkey.

The striker ended up back at Galatasaray where he went on to break the Turkish scoring record. His total of 249 goals still stands to this day.

3 Nihat Kahveci

Nihat Kahveci is one of a handful of Turkish players born in Turkiye and started his career at a Turkish club but played more games in one of the top four leagues.

TransferMarkt recorded that Nihat scored 75 goals in 195 appearances in La Liga for Real Sociedad and Villareal. In the 2002/03 season, Nihat scored 23 goals for Sociedad. His tally was good enough to finish second in the top scorer chart behind Roy Makaay (29 goals).

Real Sociedad finished second in the league behind the star-studded Real Madrid "Galacticos" side.

2 Arda Turan

Arda Turan is arguably the most famous Turk to play for one of the footballing giants.

Turan spent six seasons in Spain. Four were at Atletico Madrid, where he won a UEFA Europa League and the La Liga title. He followed those trophies with another domestic title, this time with Barcelona after joining the Catalan club for €34m.

Unfortunately for Turan, his poor anger management impacted his choices. As BBC reported, Arda Turan got a suspended three-year sentence for firing a gun at a hospital while on loan at Istanbul Basaksehir from Barcelona. Another bizarre incident occurred while he was playing for Atletico against Barcelona, where in a pit of frustration Turan launched his boot in the direction of the linesman.

However, among all the negativity was a great talent.

1 Tugay Kerimoğlu

Tugay was a master with the ball at his feet.

His intricate touches, passing, and ferocious right foot made him a fan's favourite wherever he played. A Galatasaray youth product, Tugay was instrumental in Galatasaray's UEFA Cup success, helping the team secure 3rd place in the Champions League group stages.

The battling midfielder's performances had gotten the attention of Glasgow Rangers, who bought the player during the January transfer window. A season-and-a-half later, Tugay was on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where he would spend eight years and earn the nickname "The Turkish Delight."

According to Sky Sports, during a post-match chat between Sir Alex Ferguson and Mark Hughes, the latter suggested that Tugay would be playing for Manchester United if he was ten years younger. Sir Alex did not agree but went further by saying he was a one-off and could play for any team in the world.

In a career that spanned 22 years, Tugay played over 700 club games and had 94 international caps for his country. He is a legend at Blackburn, where he spent eight seasons, and at Galatasaray, where he played for almost 13 years.

With time, the number of Turks gracing the pitches of the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A will only increase with the attention Arda Güler has brought to the Super Lig. The likes of Merih Demiral (Atalanta),

Çağlar Söyüncü (Atletico Madrid) and Enes Ünal (Getafe) will be looking to etch their names onto such a list as this one.

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