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Best Turkish footballers of all time

Mon 26 April 2021 | 16:30

Let’s take a look at the history of Turkish football and see who are amongst the top Turkish footballers of all time.

Of all sports, football is the most popular worldwide. Of course, not every individual may see it that way, but there has to be something to it that the masses generally react so passionately to it. Even the age group and nationality do not play a role here. Football seems to unite everyone.

In Turkey, like many other countries in the world football is the most popular sport. In 1923, the Football Federation of

Turkey

was founded and from 1959 onwards, all professional league matches have been played in the Süper Lig. In 2002, the Turkish national team celebrated its greatest success at the World Cup, finishing in 3rd place. The biggest success of a club team in Turkey was achieved by Galatasaray in 2000 when they went on to win the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

Greatest Turkish footballers of all time

In this article, we will take a deeper look into Turkish football history and share the best Turkish footballers of all time with you, stay tuned.

Hamit Altintop

In the

best Turkish football players ever

list, Hamit Altintop is the first Turkish player. After his prestigious stints at

Bayern Munich

and Real Madrid, the powerful midfielder, who is currently retired after spells at Galatasaray and

Darmstadt

98, collected a total of 129 matches with FC Schalke 04, Bayern Munich and Darmstadt 98. He made his debut on the first matchday of the 2003/04 season when he scored a brace in a 2:2 draw against

Borussia Dortmund

in the Revier derby.

He was a member of the Turkish team at Euro 2008 and played a key role in their run to the semi-finals, earning him a place in the 23-man squad for the tournament. At the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala in January 2011, Altintop won the second Puskás Award in history, following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, for a goal scored against Kazakhstan during the Euro 20123 qualifiers. He will always be remembered amongst the greatest Turkish soccer players of all time.

Altıntop is described as a very versatile, technical and powerful player, who can play on the left but also on the right, as well as in defence or as a winger. Originally a midfielder, he was noticed by the so-called "Special One" during the

Champions League

final that saw Bayern Munich lose two goals to nil to Inter Milan; Altintop came in for the injured Franck Ribery and was considered one of Bayern's best players by Mourinho.

Fevzi Zemzem

Fevzi Zemzem is a former Turkish footballer and coach. Due to his many years with Göztepe Izmir, he is strongly associated with the club. He is regarded by fans and the club as one of the most important players in the club's history. When he was a player, he was referred to as Buldozer Fevzi (Fevzi the Bulldozer) for his physical strength and determination.

Along with players like Nevzat Güzelırmak and Ali Artuner, Zemzem is a symbol of Göztepe's glorious era, when it was one of the first Anatolian clubs to challenge the three big Istanbul clubs Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. He played for Göztepe Izmir for 14 seasons. During these 14 years, he scored 146 goals and became the top scorer once in the 1967/68 season. He also played 18 games for Turkey national team.

Together with his club, he won the President's Cup by defeating

Fenerbahçe

Istanbul 3-1 at the end of the 1969/70 season. In doing so, they became the first non-Istanbul team to win the trophy. As a coach, his first job was with Orduspor. He ended the season with Orduspor in 4th place (1978/79), which qualified his team for the UEFA Cup. He later coached Samsunspor and Diyarbakirspor. He will be always regarded as one of the best Turkish football players ever.

Hakan Çalhanoğlu

The next player in our list of greatest Turkish footballers of all time is Hakan Çalhanoğlu. He is a German-Turkish football player who usually plays as an offensive midfielder. In July 2017, he signed a contract until mid-2021 with

AC Milan

, which paid around €20,000,000 for him to Bayer 04 Leverkusen. On top of that, the club received up to €4,000,000 in possible bonuses. Çalhanoğlu made his debut in the Turkish football team in 2014.

It was on 5 February 2012 that Çalhanoğlu made his debut for Karlsruher SC in the 2. Bundesliga against Erzgebirge Aue. He scored his first goal for Karlsruher SC against FC Heidenheim on 21 July 2012. Subsequently, Çalhanoğlu signed a four-year contract with Hamburger SV on 14 August 2012. The club allowed him to spend one more year at KSC. Later he joined

Bayer 04 Leverkusen

, where he signed a five-year contract in July 2014, managing to establish himself as one of the

top Turkish footballers of all time.

He is a trequartista who can play in any midfield role: from halfback to outside forward in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. He is also capable of playing as a second striker behind the centre forward and sometimes as a low director, being mentally quick and also possessing a quick burst of speed; he also possesses a good dribbling skill and is a good assist man for his team-mates. He has a powerful and precise shot and is a specialist in free kicks, having scored eleven in the league between 2013-14 and 2016-17 and having earned the resounding nickname "God of free kicks".

Tugay Kerimoğlu

A former footballer from Trabzon, Tugay Kerimoğlu is one of the best Turkish footballers of all time who played for Premier League club

Blackburn Rovers

, of which he also became the captain. Kerimoğlu frequently played as a controlling midfielder. He retired from active football in 2009. Many Turkish football fans regard Kerimoğlu as one of the greatest Turkish soccer players of all time who has managed to make a career abroad. Earlier in his career, Kerimoğlu played for Galatasaray.

He was able to convince the scouts of Glasgow Rangers to force a transfer. Tugay played for Galatasaray between 1987 and 2000. During that period, he won the Turkish league on six occasions and also won the Turkish Cup four times. Being named captain of Galatasaray in the 1992/93 season, he became the youngest captain in the club's history. Kerimoglu signed for Scottish club Rangers in 2000, halfway through the season, before joining English club Blackburn Rovers a year later, in 2001/02.

In his last match for the Turkish national team, he wore the number 94, which was the number of matches he had played for Turkey. It was announced in May 2009 that Kerimoğlu was in his final season and that he was going to end his career at the age of 38, after playing 233 matches for Blackburn. An all-rounder, Tugay is still one of the most technical players Turkey has ever seen. His passing and dribbling skills were a pleasure to watch. Tugay won the Mediterranean Games with Turkey in 1993 alongside Hakan Sukur.

Ünal Karaman

The next player in our list of best Turkish footballers of all time is Ünal Karaman, who is a retired Turkish football player and current football coach. He started his career with

Konyaspor

, playing as an amateur from 1981 to 1984. He then transferred to Gaziantepspor, with whom he played for three years until the end of the 1987 season. It was with Malatyaspor that he made his professional breakthrough. From 1987 to 1990 he scored 23 goals in 91 games.

This was followed by nine successful years at Trabzonspor from 1990 onwards, in which he became a key player and a pillar of the team. During his career, he was mainly deployed as a midfielder. For Trabzonspor, he scored 47 goals in 218 games. He finished his career by playing 20 games for MKE Ankaragücü in the 1999/2000 season, scoring four goals.

Karaman's performances were enough to earn him a place in the Turkish national team. Between 1985 and 1996, Karaman was called up to the national team, scoring three goals in 36 international matches. He also played five international matches for the U-21s between 1985 and 1987, scoring one goal. Prior to that, he made three appearances for the U-18s in 1984, scoring one goal. Today, he is also working as a successful football coach and many fans consider him to be one of the best Turkish football players ever.

Şenol Güneş

Another one of the

greatest Turkish footballers of all time

, Şenol Güneş is a Turkish football coach and retired football player. He was the head coach of Trabzonspor four times, most recently from 2009 to 2013. Born and raised in Trabzon, Güneş started his football career with the Turkish club as well. He participated in all ranks of Trabzonspor. Between 1975 and 1984 he was the goalkeeper of the team that won the league title five years in a row.

As a coach, Güneş won the bronze medal at the 2002

World Cup

with the Turkish national team. To date, this is the biggest success the Turkish football team has ever achieved. Güneş has never been able to make Trabzonspor champion of Turkey as a trainer. However, in 1996 and 2005 he did come second with the Turkish club and in the 2010/2011 season he missed out on the league title on goal difference, to Fenerbahce. On 2015, Güneş became head coach of Besiktas JK. Replacing Croatian Slaven Bilić, he led the club to its first national title since 2009 in the 2015/16 season.

Between 1977 and 1986, Şenol Güneş played a total of 33 matches for the Turkey national team. Other than being one of the greatest Turkish football managers of all time, many football fans and pundits in Turkey regard him as one of the top Turkish footballers of all time too.

Nihat Kahveci

Another striker in our list of

greatest Turkish soccer players of all time

is Nihat Kahveci. He was brought up in the Beşiktaş youth academy and played his first match in the 1997-1998 season. He moved to Spain in January 2002, bought by Real Sociedad, where he scored 58 goals in 133 appearances in the La Liga, of which 23 were scored in the 2002-2003 season, his personal best.

He transferred to Villarreal for free in 2006. During the 2006-2007 season, he was seriously injured, rupturing ligaments in his left knee in training. He moved back to Turkey on 28 June 2009 after being signed by Beşiktaş for four seasons. He terminated his contract with the Turkish club on 19 May 2011 and announced his retirement from playing football in January 2012. He will be always remembered amongst the best Turkish footballers of all time.

He played in the 2002 World Cup with the Turkish national team, where they finished in 3rd place. He was also present at the 2008 European Championships where, in the third game of the group stage in Geneva against the

Czech Republic

, he scored two of the three goals (the other was Arda's) that overturned the result of the match from 0-2 to 3-2 in 15 minutes and allowed the Turks to qualify for the quarter-finals at the expense of the Czechs.

Rüştü Reçber

At first, he caught the attention of

Galatasaray

and then Beşiktaş; but eventually, Fenerbahçe became the team he chose to sign for. With Fenerbahce, he experienced many title wins and awards and also the disasters of losing 6-0 to Pendikspo. He directly contributed to the league title win of his team with the saves he made during the 1995-96 season against Trabzonspor.

He also played a major role in third place with the national team in the 2002 World Cup. He was admired enough to wear the Barcelona jersey, entered the FIFA 100 list prepared by Pele, and was named the world's third-best goalkeeper in 2003. While he was expected to quit football, he was able to win another league title with Beşiktaş.

Most recognisable for his long hair, Rüştü is also still remembered for his infamous karate kick. During the international match between England and Turkey, where Kieron Dyer was sent deep and nobody expected anything, Rüştü emerged, completely unexpected, at the height of the halfway line. With the ball at head height, Rüştü decided to kick the ball away with a karate kick. Dyer, who wanted to head the ball through for himself, received this kick. When the ball bounced around a bit, Rüştü tried to get rid of it with a roundhouse kick. The former top referee Colina only showed a yellow card for this incident.

Metin Oktay

Metin Oktay was a Turkish football player, regarded by many as one of the best Turkish players ever. His nickname was Taçsız Kral ("uncrowned king"). Oktay went on to play for the amateur clubs Damlacık and Yün Mensucat. He was recruited by Izmirspor in 1954. In his first year with this team, he immediately became top scorer with 17 goals in the İzmir Profesyonel Ligi, the league for teams from the İzmir area.

Then in 1955 he moved to Galatasaray, managed by Gündüz Kılıç, and signed a five-year contract. Oktay earned a Chevrolet as a result of the transfer. In the İstanbul Profesyonel Ligi, in which Galatasaray played, Oktay was also top scorer several times. Turkey had a national football league in 1958, the Türkiye Birinci Ligi (later Süper Lig). In this league, Oktay was also the top scorer for three years in a row. In 1959, during a derby against Fenerbahçe, he scored a goal, tearing the net of the goal. Oktay played for Palermo in

Italy

in the 1961/62 season.

He returned a year later to Galatasaray, where he played until he retired from top-level football in 1969. He won the Turkish national league ten times with this club. After returning in 1962 he became the top scorer in the country three more times. For a long time, he was the player with the most goals in the Süper Lig with 223 goals. In 1988 this record was broken by Tanju Çolak. From 1955 to 1968 Oktay played for the Turkish national team in 36 international matches, scoring 19 goals.

Tanju Çolak

Playing 115 matches and scoring 74 goals in a medium level team is perhaps not a great feat, there are examples close to it everywhere in the world. However, after that, Tanju Çolak was transferred to one of the three big clubs of Turkey to score 116 goals in 125 league matches, to be the European top scorer, to break the country's record of goals in one season, to score 6 goals in a match, and these are all that made Tanju Çolak truly unique in the history of Turkish football and one of the

best Turkish footballers of all time

.

The only problem with him is that his career lasted only 12 years due to the fluctuations in his private life, he played less than 300 matches, he could not be transferred to European clubs and he was not able to show his talent in the national team as much as he deserved. Nevertheless, this goal master, who scored 240 goals in the league with Samsunspor, Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and İstanbulspor jerseys, managed to score 39 goals in a single season. He is truly one of the best strikers that Turkish football ever had.

Can Bartu

Can Bartu was the only person who wore both basketball and football national team jerseys and managed to become the star of the field by competing in the Istanbul derby in these two sports. He was a great football and showed his technical and elegant game many times on the green fields. He scored a total of 173 in 326 matches while a Fenerbahce player, and he was one of Turkey's best players in the European Cup.

In 1961, he move to Fiorentina after six years of playing for Fenerbahce. His spell at Serie A lasted for six years as he played for Fiorentina (on two occasions), Venezia and Lazio. He returned to Fenerbahce in 1967 to end his professional career three years later.

He was called up for the national team for the first time by head coach Cihat Arman for a friendly match against Poland on 16 November 1956 (1-1). He scored his first international goal in a friendly against Belgium on 8 December 1957 (1-1). He made his last international appearance on 16 November 1969 against the USSR (3-1 defeat). He will be always remembered as one of the best Turkish footballers of all time.

Sergen Yalçın

He was a true star midfielder who always made a difference with his ball technique, his great free-kicks, feeding the strikers with enormous passes, and his magically dribbling skills. He was trained by Serpil Hamdi Tüzün in Beşiktaş and entered the roster of Gordon Milne. Following his playing years with Beşiktaş, he moved to İstanbulspor for a transfer fee of 5 million Turkish liras (today's value). During his playing days, he was regarded as one of the best players in Turkey. He had his most successful years with Besiktas.

Over the course of his career, many top European clubs showed interest in him, among them Inter Milan, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona. But Sergen had a very lavish private life (horse racing, sports betting, nightlife) and was widely regarded as lazy in training and rather difficult to deal with, so a big move to a top European club never happened. He was nicknamed Süper Solak (super left-footer). In addition, he is considered a free-kick specialist and scored many directly converted free-kicks in his career.

Sergen Yalçın is the first player in the history of Turkish football to have played for the country's four biggest clubs: Galatasaray SK, Beşiktaş JK, Fenerbahçe SK and Trabzonspor. However, only Burak Yilmaz has also played for all four clubs. Many consider him as one of the

best Turkish footballers of all time

.

Lefter Küçükandonyadis

If you go to Kadıköy today, you can see the statue of Lefter and the fans of Fenerbahçe taking pictures here. Lefter was a football player whose statue was built while he was alive, who had the honor of being one of the best Turkish footballers of all time, who was the first to receive a gold medal from his country.

He played a total of 50 international matches for Turkey. He was a captain in eight matches. He was the record scorer for four decades with 21 goals for the Turkish national football team and he was only superseded by Hakan Şükür in 1997. The striker, who is of Greek origin, made his playing and scoring debut on 23 April 1948 at Panathinaikos Stadium in a 3-1 victory over Greece.

Hakan Şükür

The next player in our list of the

best Turkish footballers of all time

is Hakan Şükür, who played as a striker during his career. Widely regarded as one of the most important players in the history of Turkish football, Hakan Şükür spent most of his career with Galatasaray but also has some experience in Italy and England. The Turkish Football Federation nominated him in 2004, at the request of UEFA, as the best Turkish player of the last 50 years.

He scored 51 goals in 112 appearances for the Turkish national team. He is the Turkish men's team's all-time leading scorer. Şükür is most famous for his time at Galatasaray, which he played for eight seasons in the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2002 he played for Inter Milan, before spending short spells at Parma FC and Blackburn Rovers prior to his return to Galatasaray in 2003.

He scored the fastest goal ever in a World Cup match during the 2002 World Cup third-place match against South Korea, taking advantage of a mistake by a Korean player immediately after kick-off. The goal came 11 seconds into the match, which ended in a 3-2 victory for Turkey. Şükür is known as the man who put Turkish football on the global stage. Following his success as a youngster, many teams were interested in him, but he chose Galatasaray in order to spend more time with his family.

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