There is no shortage of experts who believe Hakan Calhanoglu is currently one of the hottest prospects in German football. Some are even convinced the 19-year-old is already more developed than Mesut Ozil was at the same age. Once the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 kicks off in his homeland Turkey this summer, the spotlight will be on the midfielder more than ever.
While Calhanoglu is eager to demonstrate his ability on the world stage, he is more determined to make history with Turkey. “We have an incredibly strong team,” the youngster told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “Right now we’re growing together like a family and I’m confident that, with the fans behind us, we can reach the final. Then we’ll see what happens.”
One of the key members of the host nation's side, Calhanoglu is already excited about the forthcoming tournament. “Whenever I pull on the Turkey shirt I get goose bumps - it’s an indescribable feeling,” he said. “Our team is very gifted technically and we have fantastic attacking players. It’s my job to bring them into the game.”
The Mannheim native currently plays for Karlsruhe in Germany’s third tier, but is well aware of his extraordinary ability and is hoping for a summer of transformation. His first aim is to help Karlsruhe win promotion back to the Bundesliga 2, “then comes the biggest highlight of my career so far in Turkey. Afterwards I want to make the breakthrough at Hamburg.”
Calhanoglu has been on Hamburg’s books since summer 2012, but was loaned to Karlsruhe in order to gain regular playing time to aid his development. The move appears to be paying dividends for the gifted midfielder, who is at ease both defensively and in the final third. Eleven goals and nine assists from just 26 games has been the remarkable return on investment so far this season.
And with the hotly-anticipated Turkey 2013 just around the corner, Calhanoglu’s combination of self-belief, fine form and superb physical fitness stand him in good stead to follow in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest players.
It is a source of inspiration for Calhanoglu that stars such as Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Diego Maradona first exhibited their talents on the global stage at FIFA U-20 World Cups. “It’ll be an unforgettable few weeks. A tournament like this is a huge step and a great opportunity for every young player, including me,” he said.
Calhanoglu, who counts Spain internationals Xavi and Andres Iniesta among his role models, struggles to keep his excitement in check when thinking about his dream of playing a FIFA World Cup in Turkey. “It’s impossible to imagine the kind of breathtaking atmosphere there'll be in the stadiums - you need to experience it first-hand. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” he said. Given that the “incredibly hospitably Turks” already live and breathe football, Calhanoglu has found himself wondering “what it will be like when they can cheer us on in their own stadiums?”
He already knows what to expect from his country’s fixtures in Trabzon, however: “That’s where my family is and an extra 50 or 60 people from my village will go to the stadium. It’ll be a fantastic experience.”
Calhanoglu is convinced his side’s attacking prowess will not only give the home support plenty to celebrate, but will also cause their opponents several headaches. While the youngster views the “resilient French” and “strong Spaniards” as the teams to beat, he insists they "respect every side and take everyone seriously”.
A rough diamond Calhanoglu may be, but he is sufficiently self-aware to face the forthcoming challenges realistically. “We still need to improve a bit in terms of discipline, tactics and in defence, but I’m sure we’ll get better in the next few months,” he said.
Whether or not the midfielder achieves all of the aims he has set himself, he is certain to experience an unforgettable mixture of emotions in the coming months. The chances are however, that we will be hearing a lot more of him after this summer.