The Turkey 2013 Ambassador for Fair Play, Kubilay Turkyilmaz spoke to FIFA.com about some of his personal experiences and the tournament so far.
A Swiss international with Turkish roots, born in Bellinzona, Switzerland, he would make his name in the land of his heritage by joining Istanbul giants Galatasaray in 1993. Turkyilmaz found the back of the net 19 times in 34 appearances for Gala spanning two seasons, as well as winning a special place in the hearts of the club’s fans thanks to two goals in a memorable 3-3 draw against Manchester United.
The gifted striker subsequently went on to sample Italian football and finally ended his career back in Switzerland with FC Luzern. What is more, Turkyilmaz scored 34 times in 62 senior games for the Swiss national team – a record which is second only to Alexander Frei’s tally of 42.
FIFA.com: What is your role at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey? How do you feel the competition has been organized?
Kubilay Turkyilmaz: The quality of football on show has been very good, I believe we have witnessed many players who will go onto become top-level footballers in the future. The organization on the whole has been fantastic, I have been able to see first-hand from behind the scenes how global tournaments like these are run. I have watched many football competitions on TV, but to actually be part of one is a completely different experience - we are like a family here.
Which teams have impressed you the most?
First and foremost I’d say France because of their quality and Iraq for their team spirit. I also enjoyed watching Colombia and was surprised to see them get knocked out of the tournament so early, while I was also impressed by Korea Republic's organization and unity.
Which players have stood out?
[Colombia’s] Juan Quintero was exceptional. He could go on to become a player on a par with [Lionel] Messi. The composure he displayed was unbelievable for such a young player. Without a doubt he will go on to become one of the stars of the game.
Turkey were eliminated by France in the Round of 16, but what was your verdict on their campaign?
The expectations were very high, since Turkey were the host nation, but there was a lack of experience among the Turkish players, as they have not been getting enough playing time at their clubs. France are one of the strongest teams in the competition, so I would have been surprised had they been eliminated [by Turkey].
Would you have liked to compete in a tournament like this when you were younger?
Definitely. My development came about very swiftly: I went from playing football in Switzerland’s fifth tier to playing for the [senior] national team in the space of six months. I never got the opportunity to play at youth national-team level. I would have loved the opportunity to play in a U-20 World Cup, but it wasn’t considered to be as important then as it is now. For instance, back then 26-year-old players were still beginning their professional football careers, whereas nowadays players are often signed at only 16 or 17.
Juan Quintero was exceptional. He could go on to become a player on a par with [Lionel] Messi.
The FIFA U-20 World Cup is certainly an important opportunity for young players to shine, but what do you think players gain from competing in such a competition?
The players gain the experience of playing football in a major international competition. Being part of a team that prepares for and takes part in such an important tournament will help them in the future.
Despite only playing two seasons in Turkey with Galatasaray, you managed to become a firm favourite with the fans there. What was your most unforgettable experience at Gala?
I will never forget playing in the Ali Sami Yen stadium: it was completely different from any other stadium I had played in. Even if I was tired I would feel rejuvenated as soon as I passed through the tunnel and out onto the pitch. The atmosphere the fans generated make you feel so much stronger. The moment we returned to Istanbul after our game with Manchester United [in October 1993] is a moment I will always treasure. I was carried by the fans from the plane to the team bus - it was amazing.
Your first game for Switzerland was against France back in 1988. Describe to us your feelings at the time?
I will never forget the game against France on 2 February 1988. As I said before, I went from playing fifth-division football to playing for Switzerland. As I entered the stadium, all I could think about was how far I’d come in such a short space of time. However, I must add, I would have loved to play for Turkey, but I was never offered the opportunity to do so.
You missed out on the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ but represented your nation at UEFA EURO 1996. What was your most memorable moment from the tournament: your goal against England perhaps?
I missed out on the 1994 World Cup due to a serious injury. At EURO 1996 my most memorable moment was indeed scoring against England at Wembley. When I was a child I could not even imagine playing football at that stadium; to have gone from playing in the street to playing at Wembley was simply unbelievable.
I will never forget the game against France on 2 February 1988. As I entered the stadium, all I could think about was how far I’d come in such a short space of time.
Turkey’s seniors have never scored against their English counterparts but, after your goal against the Three Lions for Switzerland, many Turkish fans at the time said your strike ended that run. How did that make you feel?
When I heard this it made me feel very proud. I too would love for a player wearing the Turkish national team shirt to score against England and, in my opinion, we’re more than capable of doing so.
We hear you’re currently running a restaurant now. How have you found the transition from footballer to restaurateur?
The restaurant is in my hometown, Bellinzona. It’s a lovely place, with people coming for their morning coffee and where I always have friends visiting. In fact, we recently welcomed the Galatasaray volleyball team. Players often distance themselves from each other after retiring, but I wanted to create a place where we could keep in touch. The restaurant is a way of keeping close to the people I love and respect.
Finally, as the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 Ambassador for Fair Play, do you have a message you’d like to state?
Football is a very important part of the lives of young children all around the world. They watch us on TV and dream of becoming the stars of the future. We are responsible for their development, not just on the pitch but off it as well. When you discriminate against an opponent you are not just affecting them, you are also setting a bad example for thousands of young children. A professional footballer must always remember to set an example for the next generation.