Currently sidelined with a knee injury, Turkey and Galatasaray midfielder Hamit Altintop hopes to be back in action soon, as he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview, giving hope to his fans of seeing him score the kind of goal that brought him the FIFA Puskás Award back in 2010. That strike, which came against Kazakhstan in a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier, was a truly memorable one, a searing volley into the top corner, straight from a corner kick.
Capped 84 times by his country, the 32-year-old Altintop is as well qualified as anyone to run the rule over the contenders for the 2015 award, who have just been announced. As well as discussing his favourites for this year’s prize, he looked back on his 2010 wonder strike and spoke of what the Puskás Award means to him.
FIFA.com: The shortlist for the FIFA Puskás Award has just been revealed. Who’s your favourite to win it?
Hamit Altintop: I’ve seen the goals and they’re all fantastic. The chip by the English player David Ball is wonderful and Philippe Mexes’ goal is a lot like mine in 2010. Marcel Ndjeng’s goal for Paderborn is pretty exceptional too. I have to say, though, that my favourite goal is the chip. It was so effortless.
You won this award back in 2010 with a spectacular strike from the edge of the box in an international match with Turkey. Can you still remember it?
Yes. It was a qualifier and Guus Hiddink was our coach. We had a new-look team and he’d only just taken over. The Kazakhstan match was a very important for us and we got off to a good start and ended up winning 3-0. I remember that I hit the ball with my eyes closed, just as I struck it. When I opened them again the ball was in the back of the net, though I didn’t know how it went in. It was only when I watched it on it TV that I saw it went in at the top right-hand corner.
So you scored without even looking?
(Laughs) Yes. I had to jump up a little to hit it. After all, you close your eyes when you jump up for a header, though in this particular case I closed them so I could focus all my power on the shot and hit it as hard as I could.
When did you sit down and watch it for the first time? Was that when you realised just how good it was?
That dawned on me afterwards. People were telling me it was a great goal there and then, but at that particular time all I cared about was the win. I was just happy that I played a part in it with my goal. Then, when I found out it had been nominated for the best goal of the year, I sat and watched it again. I thought to myself: “It’s not bad, you know.” And when it actually won the award, it took on this whole new dimension for me, especially when I collected the trophy and when people stop and talk to me about it. It was a great goal but the other contenders were fantastic too. I wouldn’t have minded if a different goal had won, but it goes without saying that I was pretty delighted.
Was it a training-ground move or did it just happen?
I think the best things are always down to the spur of the moment, when you improvise and take the initiative, which is what happened in this case. I like shooting from distance and I always hang around on the edge of the area, looking to get on the end of something. Sometimes I end up scoring a special goal, like the one against Schalke in the Champions League. It’s something I really enjoy.
How important is the award to you? After all, you’re on a list of former winners that includes Neymar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and James Rodriguez.
It’s a great honour for me. Most people don’t realise how much work footballers put in day in day out. They think we train a couple of hours a day and then play for 90 minutes and that’s it. There are lots of different things that come into play in our profession, though, like food, discipline, resting the body and all the work that goes into recovering from an injury and the rehabilitation period. That’s what makes awards like this so important. They really give you a lift and they’re very meaningful.
Does the fact that the fans play an active part in deciding who wins the Puskás Award make it even more special?
Collective success is what counts in football. The fans have a big part to play in making our sport so interesting and popular, and it’s very important to make them happy. Over the last few years that link between the game and the fans has been weakened a little because results come first these days. It’s not so much about character now and more about success, but what really counts is being able to interact with the fans, which is why it’s so great that they have a say in who wins this award.
Do you keep the trophy in a special place?
I have to say that it’s still at my mother’s house in Gelsenkirchen. When I left Munich, I moved back to Gelsenkirchen, and it’s still there, in my room. I want to bring it over to Istanbul soon though, because this is where I live now, where I met my wife, where I got married and where I feel very much at home.
What went through your mind when Andrei Sidelnikov, the goalkeeper you beat in scoring that goal, presented the trophy to you?
First of all, I was delighted to have won it. And I thought it was wonderful that he was there to present the award to me. Moments like that are special, and he didn’t have a problem at all in giving it to me. It’s great to have the drive and desire to win, but off the pitch we need to be good people first and foremost and to value the importance of sharing. It was a moment I’ll remember all my life, though unfortunately we hardly had any time for a chat.
Was it the best goal you’ve ever scored, the most important one?
It was a nice goal, but it wasn’t the most important one of my career. The goal I scored for Galatasaray in the last 16 of the Champions League against Schalke meant a lot to me, as did the one I got for Schalke against AC Milan, also in the Champions League, when I made it 2-2 from 30 metres out. Those two were much more important.
What do you think is the greatest goal of all time?
(Laughs) The first one that comes to mind is the one [Diego] Maradona scored with his hand. He was only 5’5 and he jumped up to head it and scored. No, I’m only joking! Roberto Carlos’ banana kick against France was fantastic. It’s things like that that make football such a fascinating game. You can try that kind of shot a thousand times and it only comes off once. And then there’s [Zinedine] Zidane’s goal in the Champions League final, when the ball dropped out of the sky and he volleyed it. That was amazing too. They were two great players and two important goals. That’s what makes the difference.
2010 was the year when Lionel Messi was recognised as the greatest player on the planet for the second time. Do you think he’ll be picking up the Ballon d’Or again this year?
I don’t think he’s got so much of a chance now because of his injury, but when he plays he’s just amazing. This season he’s scored goals and, if you ask me, he’s improved his all-round play. That said, I think Cristiano [Ronaldo] is just a little bit above Messi because he hasn’t had any injuries.
“Altintop” means “golden ball” in Turkish. Do you think talent is something you’re born with, that it’s all down to fate?
I think God wanted us [Hamit and his twin brother Halil, who plays for German club Augsburg] to take this path. We’d never have achieved it otherwise. I always say that there are a lot of youngsters who dream of being footballers, and I’ve come across more than a few who’ve had more talent than my brother and I. The thing is, we worked very hard and for us it was something we always enjoyed. We never set out to play the game professionally. All we thought about was making the most of every situation. Football has given us so much on a mental and spiritual level and it’s brought us satisfaction too, but never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we’d get so far.