There can be few Turkish players with better first-hand knowledge of the advantages of playing internationally at youth level than Nuri Sahin. The 24-year-old midfielder has already made 32 senior appearances for his country, having shone as a youngster in different European and global tournaments. To many he is a model footballer, who has come through the ranks and since become an idol to younger generations.
2005 was an unforgettable year for the affable playmaker. First he led Turkey to UEFA European U-17 Championship glory in Italy, where he was also voted player of the tournament. He followed that up by playing a leading role in his country’s top-four finish at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Peru. There he was awarded both the adidas Silver Boot for finishing as second highest scorer and the adidas Bronze Ball as third-best player. All of a sudden, Nuri Sahin was a household world.
Sahin, born and raised in Germany, subsequently experienced a swift upturn in his career trajectory. He became the youngest ever player to appear in the Bundesliga after making his debut with Borussia Dortmund later that year. A first senior cap for Turkey soon followed, against Germany of all teams. Shortly after coming on as a substitute he put Turkey 2-0 up and today he remains both the national team’s youngest ever player and scorer.
When a short loan spell at Feyenoord ended, Sahin returned to Dortmund and was the attacking fulcrum of the championship-winning 2011 side, earning the additional honour of being voted Bundesliga player of the season. However, his ensuing eye-catching move to Real Madrid was overshadowed by injuries. With first team appearances at a premium in Spain, Sahin moved to Liverpool on loan for the current season.
The next couple of years hold two tournaments of particular interest to the midfielder. To begin with, he will be closely following the action in his homeland when the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 gets under way, where memories of his own participation in youth competitions are sure to come flooding back. Then comes the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, a tournament Sahin is determined to participate in, as he revealed to FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: In nine months the football world will turn its attention to Turkey...
Nuri Sahin: [laughs] Yes, definitely. We’re hosting the U-20 World Cup and I can tell you already that everyone is full of drive and anticipation preparing for it. It’s a great opportunity for Turkey to prove it can organise a big tournament. Football plays a huge role in everyday life in Turkey, maybe the biggest role. Not a day goes by when football isn’t mentioned. We’re so passionate. I’m really looking forward to it and I know that my compatriots will enjoy the tournament a lot.
You know the answer to this better than most people: how important is it for a young player to take part in a major international tournament?
It’s priceless, especially for their development. These kind of tournaments are the first step into professional football. You appear on television for the first time and you return home full of confidence because you’ve tested yourself against the best. I have wonderful memories of the U-17 World Cup in Peru in 2005. For me it was the perfect introduction and I had a lot of fun. The tournament made the next steps easier for me and was a big help in making me a better player.
In your opinion, what is the Turkish U-20 team capable of achieving on home turf at next year’s tournament?
I have to say, I don’t know the team that well, but generally Turkish sides tend to go far once they’ve qualified for the finals. That’s why I’m convinced that the guys will make an impact. They’ll be well prepared and will go into each game with the whole country behind them. With those conditions in place, winning the title is well within the realm of possibilities.
Where do you think Turkish football currently stands compared to the world’s top teams?
Unfortunately the senior side wasn’t involved at the last two big tournaments, the 2010 World Cup and EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. That was a huge step backwards, especially when you consider that Turkey finished third at the 2002 World Cup and got to the semi-finals of EURO 2008. But it’s something we just have to accept and now we must look forward to the future optimistically.
Where does that optimism come from?
We have a new coach, we’re taking his playing philosophy on board and we’ll return to our former strength. But there’s one thing we can’t forget: there are no small teams in international football anymore. There are three or four sides at the top but it’s very close after that. That affects us too.
What has been the biggest change under the new national team coach Abdullah Avci?
I think we’re all benefitting from him. He knows almost the entire team as he worked with several players in the youth sides. There’s no-one else in the whole country who knows the players as well as he does. For example, he coached me at U-17 level. The advantage is that he is aware of every player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Looking ahead to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, what can you achieve there?
Our first objective is of course qualification, no doubt about it. We’ve started fairly well and are confident going into the games. After losing 2-0 in the Netherlands we beat Estonia 3-0 at home. But we can’t afford to make the mistake of underestimating our opponents.
What are your personal aims for the next couple of years?
First of all, I’ll give everything to have a successful season at Liverpool and to play as many games as possible. Recently I’ve experienced how quickly an injury can set you back. And of course, I want to be in the starting eleven for Turkey. That’s my main aim and I think I’m close to achieving it.
To go to Brazil as a starter in the Turkish side?
That’s my goal and I’m confident I’ll be on the pitch in Brazil as long as I stay healthy. That’s what I’ll be focusing on.