Just a few months from now, the football-crazy nation of Turkey will stage the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013, a tournament guaranteed to reflect the Turks’ boundless enthusiasm and sense of national pride. Rustu Recber knows as well as anyone about his fellow countrymen’s powerful emotions and fiery passion when it comes to the world’s favourite game.
The former goalkeeper won 120 full international caps for Turkey, making him his country's most-capped player. Over and above that, the 39-year-old Rustu is a role model and idol in Turkey, where he is always treated with the respect and admiration befitting a living legend of sorts.
Among a welter of career highlights, he was a member of the teams that finished third at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and made the semi-finals at UEFA EURO 2008. He has four Turkish championship winner’s medals from his spell with Fenerbahce and one as a Besiktas player, although his illustrious career began at his home club Antalyaspor, and he also briefly spent time with Barcelona between 2003 and '04.
The former goalkeeper, a member of the FIFA 100 roll of honour, has now hung up his gloves and can hardly wait for the start of the second most important FIFA tournament on home soil. FIFA.com visited Rustu in Istanbul for an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: Rustu, you were a member of a golden generation in Turkish football. What does that mean to you in a country with as much passion for the game as Turkey?
Rustu Recber: I sense huge pride. When I started out on the international stage, the Turkey national team didn't really have its sights set high. Before our generation came along, results were poor. We're the group of players who changed the fate and fortune of Turkish football, and that's a wonderful feeling.
You’re Turkey's most-capped player. When you look back nowadays, what do you make of this remarkable treasure trove of experience?
I won my first full cap back in 1995 and called time on my international career in 2010, so I can look back over 15 years in the national team. That's a very long, long time. If I could start over with the knowledge I have now, I'd try and experience every single international match even more intensively, so I’d be consciously making the most of each and every special occasion.
A new Turkish footballing generation is now aiming to amass this level of experience, starting with a FIFA World Cup in their own country.
How I really, really wish I was 20 again. That would mean I'd personally play at the [FIFA] U-20 World Cup 2013 here in Turkey and feel the support of the home fans. That would be unbelievable!
What does the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 mean for the nation?
It means a huge amount to Turkey and its people. It's the biggest tournament we've ever put on in Turkey, both in terms of the standard of the football and the scope of the organisation. We also know it's a very important competition to FIFA, so we’re especially proud about being the host nation.
What kind of atmosphere will we see at the tournament from 21 June to 13 July, both in the seven host cities of Antalya, Bursa, Gaziantep, Istanbul, Kayseri, Rize and Trabzon, and throughout the land?
As you know, we're unbelievably passionate about football. The people here love the game. They talk about hardly anything else for days on end. We can expect warm hospitality, powerful emotions and stirring passion. I'm absolutely certain public and fan interest will be enormous.
Based on your experience as a former world-class keeper, what can a FIFA U-20 World Cup offer a young player setting out on his career?
With the experience I have today and all the experience I've gained in the past, I can guarantee it's a truly meaningful tournament, especially for the young players, because it's a huge opportunity to plot a path for the future. That's why I'm convinced the players will enjoy this World Cup. For my part, I unfortunately never took part at a junior World Cup, and I regret not gaining that experience. But that's one of the reasons why I'm even more deeply involved in the organisational aspects of the [FIFA] U-20 World Cup in Turkey.
The group stage draw has been made. Who do you regard as favourites for the trophy?
Personally, I think it's a bit of a shame that neither Brazil nor Argentina managed to qualify, and also that Germany aren't there. That said, we'll see 24 other very, very strong teams. If you ask me, Spain and Mexico are favourites for the trophy, but I'd also like to include our Turkish team with them.
Will you be following the action and throwing your support behind Feyyaz Ucar’s team?
Of course! What kind of question is that? (laughs) I think there are always pros and cons if you’re representing the host nation. On the one hand you have home advantage and the home crowd’s support. On the other, you have to deal with a very intense weight of expectation and pressure. If the Turkish youngsters draw enough inspiration from the pros, and can use the home fans’ passion to their advantage, I'm certain they’ll comfortably make the semi-finals. But please don't misunderstand me here, because I don't want to pile extra pressure on our lads!