Legendary Turkish footballer Hakan Sukur enjoyed an illustrious playing career for both club and country. Since his retirement, the former striker has turned to politics and is now a Member of Parliament in his home country.
Sukur spoke to FIFA.com about the importance of fair play and offered advice to the young players who will be participating in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013.
FIFA.com: What is your view regarding the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 being held in Turkey?
Hakan Sukur: Firstly I would like to thank everyone involved in helping Turkey host the U-20 World Cup. I feel proud that the tournament is being held in my country. We're talking about a competition which has given rise to some of the biggest stars in world football today, so it should be taken seriously. There will be players here who will go on to play at the highest level in the near future, so it is imperative that we follow the tournament closely.
What makes Turkish football unique? How close is bond between Turkish people and football?
Turkey is similar to Italy, Spain and the Latin American countries in the level of sheer fanaticism and passion people feel towards football. We are crazy about football, and the investment Turkish clubs have received in recent years has increased the sport's popularity even further. However, we still have a long way to go in reaching our footballing potential. I believe the U-20 World Cup will help take Turkish football to the next level.
The FIFA U-20 World Cup has given many players a chance to showcase their talent on the world stage. Do you think this will attract fans to the stadiums?
There are many people who understand and love football here in Turkey. This is a great opportunity to watch the stars of tomorrow for the first time. I invite everyone who loves football to come and join us. Our hosting of the event is an important advert for our country, and hopefully we will shine.
If we had a time machine and were able to turn the clock back to speak with a 20-year-old Hakan Sukur, how would he feel about the prospect of participating in this competition?
I wish I'd been given such an opportunity. Playing in this tournament at such a young age would have been fantastic. I may not be able to turn the clock back but at least I'll be able to go to the games and support our young hopefuls. I’m going to be in the stands across the seven host cities watching the games. I used to do my part for Turkey on the field; now I’ll be doing my bit from the stands.
What do you think the FIFA U-20 World Cup means for Turkish people?
Turkey has a good track record in organising international events. I believe the Turkish people will create an atmosphere more memorable than what I experienced at the World Cup, European Championships and Mediterranean Games. We want to promote Turkey through football. I have no doubt the tournament will be remembered for all the right reasons.
You were an idol as a player. How is life treating Hakan Sukur after football?
I’ve been pretty lucky. We have a Prime Minister who loves the game and follows it closely. I have adapted well to life after football. I may no longer be playing but I am still involved with the game and have been working to help secure investment for all branches of sport in the country.
What was the most unforgettable moment in your career?
I didn’t score as many goals as was expected at the 2002 World Cup, but in the third-placed match against South Korea I scored the fastest goal in World Cup history. The goal helped relieve some of the stress I was under for not scoring in the earlier stages of the tournament. I’ve made many friends at home and abroad thanks to football. I hope that we will relive and surpass our past achievements in the U-20 World Cup.
What influence has the team that finished third at Korea/Japan 2002 had on today’s generation?
We have a talented team, which consists of experienced players. I always tell them that first and foremost they must embody the spirit of fair play. The 2002 team showed good sportsmanship. I was very consistent as a player and always believed that being a good sportsman enhanced my performances. Consistency is very important in football. If you want to be successful, just being talented isn’t enough. Young players need to follow the examples set by the stars of world football and aspire to be the next Messi, Figo or Ronaldo. Our players need to adopt a healthy lifestyle and most importantly, they need to respect the game and everyone who plays it.
As host nation, can Turkey win the FIFA U-20 World Cup?
Being a host nation may seem like an advantage but it can easily become the opposite. We can’t let the pressure of being hosts affect our performances. Sometimes the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd can create problems. Nations with a history of performing well in international competitions will be present. The players within these teams will aim to be star players in the future. This is a World Cup, so it’s going to be difficult but I can safely say that we have some of the most talented players in the competition. With the support of our fans I believe we will reach the semi-finals at the very least.
As a former footballer with vast experience, what would your advice be to the young players participating in the tournament?
My advice would be to support each other and understand the importance of teamwork. The tournament isn’t only about football, it’s also about meeting people from around the world and representing your country in the best possible way. Rather than placing unnecessary pressure on yourselves, concentrate on being a good sportsman at all times and try your hardest in every game. I would also like to wish all the teams participating in the tournament the best of luck. I hope this World Cup can bring people together and build bridges across nations.